Siddique Ali stands on the bow his country boat, silhouetted against a flaming orange sky on a November evening. The placid water of the Brahmaputra shimmers in the last rays of the setting sun and it’s time for the 61-year-old boatman to put away his oars for the day—another day ticked off from his journeys across the mighty river in Assam’s Barpeta district. “I have been a boatman for more than four decades, and my life has followed this mighty river’s ebb and flow,” Ali tells Outlook. “This is my river..this is my journey.”
Ali’s journey begins early in the morning with an inspection of his small plot of farmland where he grows paddy and corn in the neighbourhood. Then comes a trip ferrying students across the river—their school is on the other bank. “I have limited passengers these days. But I don’t charge from the students. They are the future. I couldn’t study much but I want the kids of the new generation to be educated,” he adds.
Passengers travelling to and fro take up most of the time of his day though it is no longer what used to be before the swifter and more secure motorised boats became the preferred mode of travel for many. But during the monsoon season, there is no proper time-table Ali can follow. “One fear is from flood and erosion and then, I must be ready to move any moment to attend to people in need…during emergencies, they would come to us to ferry passengers or patients.”
A father of four daughters and five sons, Ali makes sure that he goes to bed by 9 pm so that he can get up early in the morning. Another day, another journey.
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