On the Buriganga river
There are no rules,
Nor any safety protocol.
Densely packed ferries
Battered and worn, maraud
Up and down the polluted waterways;
Little boats carry passengers
To the other side of the river
Guided by the boatman’s steering
As he looks ahead, sideways and behind.
Life and death is a delicate balance
The juxtaposition a reminder and warning;
Of living by your wits,
Upstream and downstream
During the morning rush hour.
It’s a difficult time for Mr Lateef.
At 76, back slightly bent
The skin of his hands slowly peeling away
He is a monument to endurance,
Scarred and weary,
Working from dawn to late night.
The boat is his own, the long shift
A daily necessity to subsist.
The rewards of toil are meagre
The comforts: the humid, claustrophobic
Overcrowded tenement that is home.
At night he dreams
Of his farm in the hinterland
His little hut, a cow and a goat.
He is careful with money.
Just one more year of steering,
Dodging the ferries and other boats
Seven days a week even in fading light
Before his eyesight goes
And the heroic arms refuse to row.
One more cow is all he needs
Solvency and prosperity are within reach.
One man and his family;
One farm, two cows and a goat
One hut and the battered boat;
The sum total of his worldly possessions.
For Mr Lateef, the dream is reality.
When he finally closes his eyes
His life would have turned a circle.
From water to land, from navigation to agriculture
From poverty to stability.
The river will recall his soft voice,
The gentleness of his steering
His respect for her rhythm and moods;
The simplicity of his soul,
The goodness of his heart.