There Is A Dragon By the River

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Xin. ‘Xin’ means Heart in Chinese but the boy only partly understood his name. Sometimes he was grateful for his name but most of the times, the boy thought ‘Xin’ to be such a silly name and blamed his Chinese ancestry for it. He would complain to himself, Why can’t I have a simple name like ‘Jai’ or even a Christian name like ‘John’? All options sounded better than ‘Xin’…

Xin thought himself to be Indian but Indians saw him as Chinese. Looks don’t lie, right? Xin had that Chinese looking face, his squinty eyes, flat nose, black hair and ‘fair’ skin colour…so he was Chinese although he was born and raised in India. Xin grew up playing cricket and football in Kolkata’s green Maidan, he grew up under the sight of the mighty Howrah Bridge and he grew up eating dal baath1 and biryani2 with his hands. Anyway looks don’t lie, right? A ‘Chinese’ is a Chinese and an ‘Indian’ is an Indian. Can you be both? ‘Hell no,’ most people would say.

Actually the only few ties that Xin has to China is the historical fact that his great-grandfather boarded a trade ship from his ancestral homeland in a village in south China to British India. Xin always had that inner desire to ask his great-grandfather ‘Why did you decide to come to India?’. Since his great-grandfather is already resting in a Chinese cemetery in the Hills3, Xin tried asking his grandparents all these questions about this mysterious land of China. And from what he could extract from his grandparents was that there were conflicts and famine in China and since he heard of money and jobs in India, he decided to give it a ‘shot’. A big ‘shot’ he took, crossing the sea in a trade ship from Guangdong to Calcutta…His great-grandfather’s original plan was to cross the sea in a trade ship, make some money, send some home and return to China as soon as he could. However that return trip never happened and somehow he fell in love, married a lady from Northeast India and settled down in the land of Ganga Ma.

During Xin’s great-grandfather’s life in India, the beautiful Ganga was still engaged to the powerful Brahmaputra. People, culture and trade actively flowed along their joined hair-like threads of life. This marriage had lasted for centuries and was sustained by small fishermen and trading boats travelling up and down these joined Rivers. Then European colonizers came and everything changed.  His great-grandfather arrived during the peak of the British Raj and ships cut through the channels between the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers carrying laborers, tea, silk, jute, cotton and opium. This marriage had become dark and all different kinds of transactions happened along its waters. Lies, cheating and domestic violence, this marriage was doomed to end. And it ended in 1947, what a painful, bloody and tearful separation…

These Rivers have now separated but maybe one day they are destined to reunite again. Once in a while, both Rivers still have flashbacks of their former union and their common source—the mighty Himalayas. These holy, sacred mountains that touch Heaven and separate the long-lost brothers of India and China.

Growing up in India, Xin wanted the smallest connection possible to China. He wanted to be considered Indian, not Chinese by others. Therefore, he had to act like an Indian not Chinese. However one day, after seeing a very old photo of his great-grandfather somewhere in the Himalayas, an inner urge sparked within Xin to go beyond these mountains and journey to China. From his heart, curiosity bursted and he started searching…Xin started wondering about his great-grandfather’s journey from China to India and how hard it was and the details of it. First he asked his grandfather, who was reading a Chinese newspaper published in India, this existential question: ‘Why? Why didn’t great-grandfather return to China? Why did he choose to stay here in India?’

His grandfather replied, ‘I wish I knew Xin, if I asked him that time, he would have given me a nice beating…’ He paused for a second while giving another glance at his newspaper. ‘Some people say love is a powerful force,’ added his grandfather with a laugh. Xin kept interrogating both his grandfather and grandmother about China and Chinese culture for these two topics were quite intriguing and fascinating to him. They tried to answer Xin as much as they could but sometimes they would be get annoyed by such an inquisitive child. ‘This boy keeps asking questions and questions…put him to work as a detective or investigator or something,’ his grandparents would say to Xin’s parents.

Oh how Xin enjoyed listening and asking questions about Chinese folk stories from his beloved grandparents! There was one story about mythical dragons who slumbered deep down the river and awakened every year to send rain upon the land. These water dragons were quite ill-tempered. Sometimes they would send no rain at all causing painful droughts and sometimes they would send too much rain bringing floods. Hence it was very necessary to appease these dragons with offerings. Every year in China, during the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, all kinds of offerings were made to these river dragons. One of the most important offerings were zong zi—glutinous rice stuffed with meat or sweet paste wrapped in bamboo leaves.

And there was another story about a wondering poet and exiled minister named Qu Yuan who who offered his body to the River after hearing the tragic news about the demise of his home Kingdom of Chu. Qu Yuan had warned the King and other ministers about a neighbour Kingdom’s false peace treaty but the King and other minister’s didn’t listen to him and exiled him instead. The poet and former minister wandered for years producing enduring poems that still touch the hearts of readers today. When the poet heard the news that his Kingdom of Chu had been conquered by the Kingdom of Qin, Qu Yuan decided to offer his life to the river as an act of protest. The fishermen and local villagers after hearing about Qu Yuan’s suicide, they took out their boats and searched for his body and while throwing zong zi into the river in hope that the fish would eat the zong zi instead of Qu Yuan’s body.

During school break, the boy tried telling these stories to his group of ‘friends’. Oh how he was laughed at and became the target of schoolyard jokes.

‘Xin, Xin, listen, yesterday I saw a dragon in the river.’ One of his ‘friends’ talked to Xin with a sneaky smile while making eye contact with the other boys.

‘Where, where?’ asked Xin very excited.

‘In your crazy head.’ Everyone bursted out laughing unscrupulously. ‘He’s such crazy boy. Leave him, let’s go watch a movie after school, the new Transformers movie is out.’

During school time, Xin would sketch all types of dragons in his notebook. He loved drawing and painting, he did have the innate talent for art but he was afraid to show it to others. One day, the gang snatched his precious notebook and showed it to everyone while laughing at his drawings to finally rip them apart.

How they ripped apart the boy’s paper heart into little shreds. Broken, the boy picked up his shredded pieces of heart and tried to assemble it back by the riverside where an ancient Portuguese church stood mighty like a fortress. By the river, the boy sat at one of the benches facing the beautiful riverscape.

The Riverscape

Sometimes he sobbed his broken heart out—even the passerby animals took pity on him. Wondering dogs, goats, birds and fish would stop and dwell next him, perhaps in an attempt to comfort him. Other times, he got jolted by sparks of inspiration and drew river dragons as he imagined them to be. And sometimes he prayed.  How he prayed to Lord Jesus Christ, the Buddha and other deities so that his ‘friends’ would stop bullying him. How he prayed that one day, he could catch a river dragon, ride it down the river and show everyone the Truth—that dragons really do exist!

These riverside pilgrimages became a daily routine for the boy.

‘Oh crazy boy! Where are you going? Are you going to cry like a baby by the river?’ The boy didn’t pay attention to the bullies’ taunts so everyday he continued his silent pilgrimages to the bench by the riverside. Time passed by. Days, weeks and months flowed by just like the Ganga rushing to join the sea.

The Bench By the River

One day, on a very sunny day, during the time of the year when the flower buds perform their stretching yogas to blossom into the world and little birds pitch their chirping to praise the beauty of Creation, the boy sat at the bench by the river. He was fully concentrated sketching river dragons. Suddenly he heard a soft, singing like voice next to him:

‘Ei ekati nadi dragana haya?’ (in Bengali) (Is this a river dragon?)

‘Ksama karem? Caca, mainne tumhem suna nahim tha.’(In Hindi) (Sorry? Uncle, I couldn’t hear you.)—replied the boy confused.

‘Is that a river dragon?’—asked the short, tanned, thin man with a short bush-like beard. He wore a yellowish white banian, a dhoti and was standing barefoot.  He must be one of these fishermen who work by the river, thought the boy.

‘Yes, how do you know about dragons sir?’

‘I’ve seen a few back in the days when I was your age.’

‘What? You’ve seen dragons?’, asked the boy really surprised.

‘Yes,’ replied the man like it was the most natural thing in the world.

‘My friends always tell me that dragons don’t exist. They say that I’m crazy for believing that dragons exist.’

‘If you have friends like these, who needs enemies?’

‘Hm you’re right about that,’ nodding his head with a pensive expression.

‘True friends are like very rare fish, it is very hard to catch these days. So don’t confuse the low quality fish latta with the rare fish hilsa.’

‘Yes, sometimes I do wonder if they really are my friends. They make my life miserable.’

‘Don’t worry, one day you will find the best fish in the world. Just make sure when you find it, you don’t let it slip away.’

‘Yes,’ nodded the boy in agreement.

‘Where did you see the river dragon uncle?’

‘Does it really matter where? I am telling you I’ve seen it.’

‘Then when did you see the river dragon uncle?’

‘Does it really matter when? I am telling you I’ve seen it.’

‘Ok, did other people also see that river dragon uncle?’

‘Does it really matter if others also saw the river dragon? I am telling you I’ve seen it.’

Perplexed by his vague answers, the boy stared into the river and reflected on the fisherman’s words for some time. The river was orange with brushstrokes of dark blue and green from the surrounding trees and the sun was slowly setting, ready for a peaceful nap. The birds were chirping, dragonflies circling and a gentle breeze was blowing like an old man smoking, very relaxed in his old arm-chair.

‘You’re right. It doesn’t really matter as long as you yourself experienced it.’

‘Can you take me to see the river dragon?’—asked the boy burning with excitement.

The fisherman looked at the boy—his eyes were shinning like the North Star on a dark cloudless night. Just like the times when he gazed at the sky’s divine Beauty while lying on his back in his boat dancing with the river in the by the rhythm of life. The fisherman reminisced for a moment and calmly replied, ‘Ok you come tomorrow around the same time with your sketchbook and we can prepare to go see the river dragon.’

The next day Xin rushed to go meet the fisherman. His heart was drumming with joy. In the same place by the river, the fisherman greeted him with a nod and said, ‘Before we start preparing for this journey to see the dragon, I am going to ask you a few questions. Hope you don’t mind.’

‘Sure, not at all,’ quickly replied the boy.

‘Do you really want to see the river dragon?’

‘Yes!’—replied Xin with a flash of certainty.

‘Aren’t you afraid to see the river dragon?’

The boy pauses for a few seconds and answers with a solid ‘No.’

‘How badly do you want to see the river dragon?’

‘I want to see it from the bottom of my heart!’

‘It seems like you do want to see the river dragon. Let’s get ready for the journey then.’

‘First we have to build a boat and then we sail down the river to find that dragon.’

‘What kind of boat are we building?’

‘A dragon boat!’

‘Oh a dragon boat. I still remember when my grandparents used to tell me stories about how my people—the Chinese used to build dragon boats and hold races during the Double Five Festival in honor of river dragons and the poet Qu Yuan.’

‘Yes! That’s the dragon boat I’m talking about. Now you draw me a dragon boat.’

‘But I can’t. I can draw river dragons but not a dragon boat.”

‘You should hear the words you are saying. Of course you can! Believe in yourself my friend. You can draw dragons, right? Just visualize it. Shape the dragon into the form of a boat. See my boat over there. You can take the shape and measurements from it.’

Fisherman's Boat

The boy examined the fisherman’s boat, noted down the specific shape and measurements from it and started drawing and filling it with colours. After some time, Xin finished sketching a dragon boat.

‘Beautiful! See, it wasn’t hard at all. It’s all in your mind. The biggest obstacles are not outside of you but all inside your mind. Break them free! Now take my dear boat, see those these buckets of paint over there and paint it just like the dragon boat you’ve sketched.’

‘But this is your boat? Don’t you need it for your fishing? I’m afraid of ruining your boat.’

‘Don’t worry about that. My boat, your boat, all the same. Anyway I need to change the looks of my old boat, it has gotten too boring.’

‘Thank you sir.’ The boy raised his concentration and transformed the fisherman’s boat to look like the dragon boat he visualized. Of course the traditional Chinese dragon boat is much longer and thinner in width but Xin had to work with what it was given by the fisherman. Xin worked for hours and hours on this boat and he only stopped after he completed his assigned task.

‘You took your time but not bad! The boat work is done, now we have to wait for the auspicious day of Double Five and we set sail into the river to see the dragon!’

‘Wait that’s actually in five days!’

‘Yes, go rest for five days and return here during Double Five Festival! On that day we are going see the river dragon! Also, you have to bring a set of Chinese drums and some zongzi. The drums will be used to awaken the dragon and the zongzi will be used as offerings to it. Are you going to remember this?’

‘Yes,’ replied the boy while noting everything down in his sketchbook.

‘Good. Now go and take some rest. Keep yourself healthy and see you in five days.’

These five days went by very slowly. The boy was very anxious and started to have streaks of heat and cold, insomnia, mood swings from worry to grief to fear, to anger and back to happiness and his body went completely out of balance. Sometimes his heart beat too fast, sometimes he felt there was something wrong with his liver or kidney or lungs or spleen. What a crazy five day journey! He was so happy that he came out alive after these five days of crazy change. It was now the day for the Double Five Festival.  Xin got his grandfather’s set of Chinese drums and some zong zi made by his mother to go meet the fisherman.

Xin left his home early so he slowly and joyfully walked to the riverside to meet the fisherman. He sang his old childhood songs along the way and he looked at his surroundings in a state of bliss and admiration of all the Beauty surrounding him. It seemed like life finally made sense. No more searching, no more striving, just Being in time. Once he reached the riverside, the fisherman was sitting under the shade of a banyan tree, very relaxed and taking a few puffs of a bindi while sitting under the shade of a tree.

Under the Tree

Gently the fisherman asked, ‘I hope you are feeling well.’

‘Now I am feeling great. Not so well for the last five days.’

‘I am glad you are feeling better,’ said the fisherman with a smile.

‘Are you ready for the dragon?’

‘I was born ready!’

‘Haha, good to hear!’

The boy and the fisherman worked together to push the boat through the mud into the river. At first Xin slipped a few times while pushing the boat but soon he got the hang of it. They got momentum from their joined force and used it to reach the river. Both of them got into the boat.

‘Sails up! Drums ready?’ exclaimed the fisherman.

‘Yes sir!’

‘It’s time to set sail! Forward we go!’ screamed the fisherman to encourage Xin.

‘Forward we go!’ repeated Xin, brimming confidence.

The fisherman and the boy sailed out into the river playing the Chinese drums out loud. Then they threw the zong zi into the river as offerings. The Chinese drums kept soaring higher and higher. They sailed down the river towards the sea. The drums kept soaring higher and higher.

All the people in the river bathing and doing puja in the ghats stopped and saw the happening, looking perplexed. Xin’s so called ‘friends’ saw it and became speechless…Suddenly they started cheering for Xin and the news soon spread across the town and people started flocking to the riverside. Xin’s parents and grandparents came to see, how proud they were. The boy’s community—the Indian Chinese came to see, how awed they were. Everyone from Chinese, Anglo-Indians, Bengalis, Gujaratis, Marwaris, Biharis, Punjabis, Rich, Poor, Literate, Illiterate, Old, Young, all kept exclaiming ‘There is a Dragon In the River!’

‘There is a Dragon In the River!’

‘There is a Dragon In the River!’


To be continued or not…


dal baath1 A popular staple food dish in India, Nepal and Bangladesh consisting of steamed rice and lentil soup.

biryani2 A famous Indian mixed rice dish consisting of long-size rice cooked with spices, meat and/or vegetables.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           the Hills3 A local term used to refer hill stations such as Darjeeling and Kalimpong where tea is often cultivated and the Chinese used to worked in these plantations.

The Dancing Boy – A Script for a Children’s Dance-Drama Part II Scenes IV, V, VI

Scene IV – The City On the Other Margin

(Urban scene. Music starts and Hero does a dance to this beat made of sounds from the city on the other side of the river.)

Song 2: Street Beats in Kolkata by Beatshop (Beatmaker and DJ Ko Wong-Horiuchi)

Youtube link:

(Hero does a dance expressing his sensory overload in the city. Music stops. Hero bumps into a man in suit.)

(Meeting With the Man in Suit)

(Man in suit) – Watch your step boy!

(Hero) – I’m sorry.

(Man in suit) – Why do you look so lost? You are not from here aren’t you?

(Hero) – No I’m from the other side of the river.

(Man in suit) – I thought so. Instead of roaming around, you should get a job like everyone else.

(Hero) – I do have a job sir.

(Man in suit) – I know what kind of jobs you boys from the other side of the river do here. Roaming around and trying to get some easy money: scamming tourists, lying, stealing.

(Hero) – No sir I do none of that. I work in a jute mill on the other side of the river. I came to this side to find a group of breakdancers. Have you seen a breakdance group around here by any chance?

(Man in suit) – Breakdance? What a waste of time, breakdancing… You should go look for a well paying job on this side of the river and make some money. (He checks his expensive watch.) Then you will be able to buy a nice watch like this one. (He shows his watch to Hero.) Chii, I’m so late for my business meeting. Sometimes I talk too much… Remember boy time is money, never waste it. Now get out of my way.

(The man in suit walks away in a fast pace.)

(Meeting With the Wealthy Lady with Her Son)

(A rich, upper class lady walks into the stage holding her son’s hand. Her son carries a small backpack and is eating a big piece of chocolate. )

(Hero) – Hello didi. Have you seen a group of breakdancers around here?

(The lady ignores him.)

(Hero) – Hello, have you seen a group of breakdancers around here?

(Lady’s son) – Wow, breakdancers!

(Lady) – Come here dear, don’t talk to him.

(Hero) – Excuse me, please don’t pretend I don’t exist. I am just asking whether you have seen any group of breakdancers around here.

(Lady) – Break, what?

(Hero) – Breakdancers. I’m looking for a group of young people dancing on the street.

(Lady) – Dancing on the street… Are they beggars?

(Hero) – No, no.

(The lady’s son starts breakdancing.)

(Lady) (The lady slaps her son’s back to stop dancing.) What are you doing? You need to have manners when in public. Don’t dance in the street like a monkey. Let’s go home.

(The lady and her son walk away.)

(Meeting With the Shopkeeper)

(Hero walks towards a betel shop by the river ghat with a big, attractive name sign – “Common Betel Shop”. At the time, there are no customers at the betel shop.)

(Hero) – Hello sir. Do you know about a group of kids dancing around here?

(Shopkeeper) – Dancing? Not really. Do they earn money?

(Hero) – I don’t think so.

(Shopkeeper) – Why would they dance if they can’t earn money from it? Young people nowadays, you don’t know how hard it is to make a living.

(Hero) – Sir, how hard it is to make a living around here?

(Shopkeeper) – You have no idea, do you? You have to work from morning to evening but money is never enough.

(Hero) – I also work from morning to evening but my family tries to be grateful with the little money we have.

(Shopkeeper) – That’s just sweet talk. Nobody is happy being poor. My wife and children are always complaining about money and money and how they don’t have enough of it. So here I am earning money for them. Anyways why am I telling this to you…

(Hero) – Sir, did your wife and children ever come visit your store?

(Shopkeeper) – No they have no interest in it.

(Hero) – Why don’t you invite them and ask them to come visit you? I am sure they will see how hard you work everyday and start appreciating your sacrifice for them.

(Shopkeeper) – You are much wiser than you look young man. I will think about it.

(Hero) – People say don’t judge a book by its cover…

(Shopkeeper) – You are too smart for my liking. Are you going to buy anything?

(Hero) – No sir.

(Shopkeeper) – Then why don’t you move to this side so customers can see and walk into the shop.

(Hero) Ok. (Hero moves to the side.) Actually I will go and take some rest under that Banyan tree. This way I won’t disturb your business. Sir, I hope everything works out for your shop and your family.

(Shopkeeper) – I hope so too, thank you. You have a kind heart young man. What is your name?

(Hero) People call me Hero.

(Shopkeeper) You know Hero, that is a very old Banyan tree. When I was your age, I used to sit there and contemplate life but now I sit in the shop and worry about money. You enjoy your years of youth because there is no joy in old age.

(Hero) – Sir why don’t you come sit with me under the shade of that Banyan tree?

(Shopkeeper) – Thank you for your offer but I have to look after this shop. After all, my family and this shop are the only two valuable things that I have in my life. I would have a nice time relaxing under that Banyan tree but I can’t leave my shop…

(Hero) Why? Can’t you close your shop for a little break?

(Shopkeeper) Why would I? If I sit here in my shop, I get paid for doing so. However if I sit under that Banyan tree, I lose money. Then I start chatting, meeting new people, paying others tea and snacks, and eventually my pocket will go empty.

(Hero) Sir wouldn’t you do the same sitting at sitting in your betel shop? Meeting people, tea, snacks…

(Shopkeeper) No. My conduct is very strict and professional when I am in the shop. Only work, no fun or relaxation.

(Hero) Sir sometimes people need to relax and spend time with family and friends.

(Shopkeeper) Why relax if you can make money? Do you see those two customers that are walking here? They are ready to purchase some chewing tobacco and betel leaves. If I wasn’t sitting here in the shop, this money would go to another seller.

(Hero) Sir I still don’t understand your thinking but I respect it. Will you ever reach a time in which you tell yourself “I have earned enough money?”. Once you do, we can go together and relax under that Banyan tree. For now I will go by myself and take some rest. Good bye sir.

(Shopkeeper) When you get older, get married and start a family, you will understand my thinking. As I said enjoy your years of youth. Best of luck for you and I hope you find the breakdance group you were looking for. Goodbye.

(Hero goes and sits down under the Banyan tree. End of Scene IV.)

Scene IV Glossary:

Sensory – adjective, of related to the senses like taste, touch, smell, seeing and hearing

Roaming – verb, moving around without aim or purpose

Scamming – verb, to cheat other people usually for money

Pretend – verb, to act like something is true but it is not, to give a false appearance

Nowadays – adverb, in the present or current time

Grateful – adjective, feeling or showing thanks for something or someone 

Scene V – Encounter With the Dance Crew

(While Hero sits under the Banyan tree, the dance crew he was looking for walk into the stage with a boombox and acting very cool. The boy watches curiously.)

(Bill) – Dude have you seen the new music video on MTV?

(Xerox) – Yea, it’s so amazing.

(Bill) – Let’s add some of their moves into our routines.

(Xerox) – Yea, good idea man.

(Sweetz) – It’s nice to get inspired from others ideas but we shouldn’t copy them. By the way, how did your exam go Bill?

(Bill) – You’re right no ‘biting’ (*a term used for copying other dancers’ moves in bboy/bgirl culture). My exam went well. If I get a good score on this, I can go study in a top university in the US or UK.

(Xerox) – Oh man, when you go abroad, you’ll meet so many famous bboys and bgirls.

(Bill)– Yea, maybe I can practice more and learn more things there. My parents aren’t too happy with me practicing street dance. They want me to focus on my studies so I can have a stable job in the future.

(Sweetz) – Remember you can’t always aim for stability. Just like dance, you have to aim for creativity and originality.

(Bill) – You and your talk about originality. I think winning battles is more important. You can be the most original bboy or bgirl in the world but if you can’t win any competitions, you are nothing. I really want to win the upcoming dance competition so I can show my parents how I can become a successful professional dancer.

(Xerox) – Respect man. Our crew is here to help you out in bringing that trophy back home to show your parents.

(Sweetz) – We are here to support you Bill.

(Other crew members) – Yes. (All the crew members nod and show signs of support and agreement.)

(Bill) – Thank you guys, now let’s practice. We have a jam to win!

(The dance crew start their dance practice. Hero approaches them.)

(Hero) – Hello. My name is Hero. Could you teach me some moves please?

(The crew look at him from top to bottom. The crew leader decides to ask Hero.)

(Bill) – Where are you from?

(Hero) – I am from the other side of the river.

(The group of young kids look at each other and judge him.)

(Bill) – Why don’t you find a crew on your side of the river?

(Hero) – I haven’t seen any bboy crews over there.

(Bill) – Then you should start your own crew. (Turns around to his crew members.) Chal, let’s continue practicing. We have an international jam coming up in a few months.

(Sweetz) – Come on, let him practice some moves with us.

(Bill) – Do you want to move to the other side of the river and create a crew with him then?

(Sweetz) – No, I just want to teach him some moves.

(Bill) – We have an international dance battle coming up soon. We need to practice hard if we want to win this.

(Other crew members) – Come on Sweetz, let’s continue our practice for the jam.

(Sweetz) – Sorry, I have to go practice with them. What’s your name again?

(Hero) – My name is Hero. Thanks, anyway. Go ahead.

(Sweetz) – I’m known as bgirl Sweetz. I apologize for my crewmate’s attitude, he’s under lots of pressure. Maybe when the dance competition is over you can come and practice with us.

(Hero) – Maybe. Bye.

(The boy walks away from the dance practice really disappointed. End of scene V.)

Scene V Glossary:

Creativity – noun, the ability to make new things or think of new ideas

Originality – noun, being different and new in a good way

Attitude – noun, a way of thinking and behaving that is unfriendly

Start of Scene VI – The Ferry Back Home

(Ferryman) – Hello my friend.

(Hero) – Hello. (Replies the boy, very sad, looking down and avoiding eye contact.)

(Ferryman) – What happened?

(Hero) – They didn’t let me practice with them. One kid was nice but others didn’t want me to join them. They were saying how they had to practice in order to win this dance battle coming up.

(Ferryman) – I see. These kids want to win the competition, and succeed in life just like everyone else on this side of the river. Don’t let this city bring you down my young friend. This is like a city of crows, people who live here fight each other for the leftovers. Let’s return home to the other shore. The river is our friend and it will guide us home.

(Hero) – Yes, I want to return to my side of the river, where I belong.

(Ferryman) – Remember your true home is on the other shore.

(The ferryman sings another song about the river. This is a folk song composed by Bhupen Hazarika.)

Song 3: “O Ganga Behti Ho Kyun” (O Ganga why do you keep flowing?) by Bhupen Hazarika

Lyrics and English Translation (edited from different available versions)

(Assamese )

Bisterno varorey, / (On your wide banks)

Afankhya janore, / (That are home to countless people)

Hahakar sunio (In spite of hearing their anguished cries)

Nnirovey, / (So silently and unmindfully)

Bhural hui tumhi, / (Oh you old river?)

Bhural hui bura ki aur. / (Why do you keep flowing?)


Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Naitikta,  nasht  hui, manavta bhrasht  hui,
(Morality is destroyed, humanity has been corrupted)
Nirlajj bhav se behti ho kyun?..
(Why do you keep flowing shamelessly?)
Itihas ki pukar, kare hunkar,
(The call of history is roaring)
Oh ganga ki dhar, nirbal jan ko, sabalsangrami, samagrogrami, banati nahi ho kyun?.
(Oh stream of Ganga, why don’t you turn the weak into powerful warriors marching forward?

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Anparjan, aksharheen, anginjan, khadyoviheen, *neatravhiheen,
(Innumerable people are illiterate, uneducated, without food and blind)
dikshmon ho kyun?.
(Why are you silent seeing this?)
Itihas ki pukar, kare hunkar,

(The call of history is roaring)

O Ganga ki dhar, nirbal jan ko, sabalsangrami, samagrogrami, banati nahim ho kyun?.

(O stream of Ganga, why don’t you turn the weak into powerful warriors marching forward?)

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Vyakti rahe, vyakti kendrik, sakal samaj, vyaktitya rahit,
(People are self-centered, the entire society is characterless)
Nishpran samaj, ko tor ti chodti na kyun?
(Lifeless society, why are you unaware of this?)
Itihas ki pukar, kare hunkar,

(The call of history is roaring)

O Ganga ki dhar, nirbal jan ko, sabalsangrami, samagrogrami, banati nahi ho kyun?.

(O stream of Ganga, why don’t you turn the weak into powerful warriors marching forward?)

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Shrutasvini, kyun na rahin,
(Why did you stop being a source of action and energy)
Tum nishchay, chintan nahim,
(You became inanimate)
Prano me prerana deti na kyun?
(Why don’t you give inspiration to life?)
Unmat avani, kurushetra garami, gange janani, navabharat me, bhisma rupi, sut samrajayi, janati nahi ho kyun?
(The exhilarated earth has become Kurushetra (a battleground, where Mahabharata took place), Ganga, o mother, in this modern India why don’t you give birth to a victorious son like Bhishma, the great warrior?

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)
Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, o ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

Vistar hai apar, praja dono par, kare hahakar ni sabdth sada,
(Your expanse is immense, the people living on both banks are suffering silently)
O ganga tum, ganga tum, ganga tum, o ganga tum, ganga tum,  ganga behti ho kyun?..
(O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)
Ganga behti ho kyun? (O Ganga why do you keep flowing?)

(The ferryman finishes singing)

(Ferryman) – We have arrived. When you feel sad and lost, just observe and listen to the river my friend. The river is always dancing. The river dances in its own rhythm. The river dances with an infinite joy and everywhere it flows, it is at home. Goodbye my friend. God bless you!

(Hero) Goodbye sir. God bless you too and thank you for ferrying me across the river!

(End of scene VI.)

Scene VI Glossary:

Avoiding – verb, to stay away from something or someone

Leftovers – noun, the remains of something has already been used, eaten or completed

Rhythm – noun, a regular and repeated pattern of sounds and/or movements  

Infinite – adjective, something that has no limit or ending  

List of Context specific words (India):

Betel or pan – leaves of a climbing plant commonly chewed by people in India as a mild stimulant

Bhai – brother

Chal – common expression with a meaning similar to “let’s go”

Dada – older brother in Bengali

Didi – older sister in Bengal

Ghat – series of steps that lead to the river

Majhi – boatman

Khichdi – a popular dish in India made of rice and lentils (dal). It is a flexible dish that can be prepared only with rice and lentils or vegetables and/or meat can be added to it

Tabla – a classical Indian musical instrument which consists of a pair of small hand drums attached together, one being slightly larger than the other and is played using pressure from the heel of the hand to vary the pitch

Toto – A three wheeled electric battery powered vehicle that can be used as an alternative to rickshaws


On Naming the Hughli River

Where Are You O Boatman
Where Are You O Boatman

Rivers are commonly refereed as the bloodlines of mother Earth. Its utmost importance to the planet Earth and all living beings cannot be fully captured in a few sentences. Rivers offer vital services such as providing precious water for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, industries, transportation, communication and bringing all living beings together over the shared need for water. In a way rivers equate to Life in this planet.

Civilizations, empires and cities have risen and fallen on the margins of major rivers around the world. It was on the margins of the Hughli river, a distributary of the Ganga or Ganges river, that seven European nations: the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, Danes, Ostenders (Swedish) and Prussians founded trade settlements and fought each other in order to establish trade empires in India and the rest of South Asia (Das and Chattopadhyay, 2014). Over time the British East India Company outwitted its competition and managed to establish a powerful colonial empire in India with its headquarters in the city of Calcutta. Calcutta (name changed to Kolkata in 2001) sprung up from small village settlements on the margins of the Hughli river to later become the administrative center of the British colonial empire in India (Chatterji, 2009).

Throughout this writing, I will attempt to provide a historical background of the Hughli river, discuss the process of naming this river, and lead into reflections on the relationships between people, language and rivers.

Background Information

The Hughli river is a stretch of the Ganga (Ganges) river sourced in the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas and it is known to be one of the four great Himalayan rivers flowing through India, along with the Yamuna, Indus and Brahmaputra rivers (Darian, 2001). It is commonly accepted that the Hooghly river is formed at the junction of the Bhagirathi and Jalangi rivers at Nabadwip in the district of Nadia in West Bengal and flows into the sea at Bay of Bengal covering an area of about 260 km (160 miles)(Britannica, 2014).

It was from the sea at Bay of Bengal that European traders arrived and sailed up the river in order establish trade settlements on both sides of its margins. The river’s strategic geographical location near Bay of Bengal allowed the entry of ocean going ships and its extensive waterways served as channels of communication and transportation connecting people, cultures, ideas, goods and services. At first European traders settled on the west side of the Hughli river because it was more developed than the east side due to the existence of local ports and settlements where traders from different parts of India came together for commerce. One of these local settlements was the town of Hughli and the Portuguese saw potential in this place to become a successful port where trade would flourish. This led to the establishing of one of the first European trade settlements on the west side of the Hughli river in the town of Hughli by the Portuguese (Das and Chattopadhyay, 2014). Later other European nations such as the Dutch, English, French, Danes, Ostenders (Swedish) and Prussians  joined the ‘rush’ to establish trade settlements along the margins of the Hughli river.

On Naming the River

Before the arrival of European traders, the Hughli river was originally known as the Bhagirathi river or as the Ganga river. With the arrival of the Portuguese in the town of Hughli and followed by traders from other European countries who also sought profits from trade in Bengal, the economic, social, political and cultural landscape of the areas along the river started to change. These newly formed trade companies grew to exert powerful influence on local affairs and were able to shape the way in which people name, interact and relate to the river.

European settlers in their need for simplification started to name the river (originally known as the Bhagirathi or the Ganga) as the Hughli river. The new name derived from the town of Hughli in which the river flowed through. The term Hughli is said to be derived either from gola which means storehouse or hogla which signifies the reeds that used to grow on the margins of the river. This gradual change in the name of the river from “Bhagirathi into Hughli was symptomatic of a broader transformation that took place in this region as a result of European intervention.” (Das and Chattopadhyay, 2014). These European traders as agents of colonialism and globalization shaped how local people connected and attributed meaning to the river.

Reflections on Naming the River

In a sense local people lost their power to name the river. Their voices got silenced and the simplified name of “Hughli” river used by European traders substituted the name “Bhagirathi” river or the “Ganga” river used by the local population. It might seem that there is nothing special for people to be able to name the world around them because after all it is just a word. Let’s look at this quote by Paulo Freire, a leading Brazilian thinker, philosopher and educator on the power of naming the world:

“To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming.” (pg. 61, Freire, 1972)

This quote brings out the importance of naming the world and how it is in ingrained in the process of existing humanly that is to live as a free human being. Freire argues that in order for people to exist as free human beings, it is necessary to regain the power to name the world around us. The power of naming the world is the power to determining reality.

Here is another excerpt of a conversation in a culture circle in Chile quoted by Freire that again expresses the power of naming:

‘Let’s say, for the sake of the argument , that all men on earth were to die, but that the earth itself remained, together with trees, birds, animals, rivers, seas, the stars…wouldn’t all this be a world?’ ‘Oh no,’ the peasant replied emphatically. ‘There would be no one to say: “This is a world”.’ (qtd. Freire, 1972)

Language is the mediator of human-world relationships (Freire, 1972). It determines how humans construct and de-construct meaning from the world which creates the so called human ‘reality’. It is from human-world relationships that reality is produced and acted upon. What is the connection between the power of naming and human-river relationships? This thought/reflection is an attempt to tackle this question:

A river only becomes a river if people name it as a river. Without naming the river as a river then people cannot know what a river is. Without language, people cannot name what it perceives to be a river to become the river. For a river only becomes a river if the people make sense of it and act upon it as being a river. Yes, a river can exist without people but it would not exist as a river per se. It would exist as something ‘else’, something beyond human conception because there would be no people to no name it as being a river.  Humans can only filter the so called “the world in which we live in” through the limited perspective of a human being and people call it ‘reality’. But this is only human reality, it cannot be applied to All. Yes, humans can transcend this perspective but this transcendence cannot be captured using human words for it is beyond the human realm. Since this transcendence is beyond the human realm, you would experience the river not as a river but as something ‘else’.

This reflection is an attempt to bring out the power of naming the world which in this case the power to name rivers.


The gradual change in the name of the river from Bhagirathi or Ganga to Hughli provides major insights on how the arrival of European traders as agents of colonialism and globalization, shaped how people connected and attributed meaning to the river. Even though India is now an independent country since 1947, there are still remnants of the structures of colonialism used during British control of India. Moreover India is under the fire of constant cultural imperialism in the current ongoing wave of globalization.

Some food for thought:

Who has the power to name the world or the so called ‘reality’?

Is the name Hughli or Hooghly river still being used to name the river?

Do the common people still come together in the naming of the world?

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world.” (Freire, 1972)


Chatterji, Aditi. Ethnicity, Migration and the Urban Landscape of Kolkata. Kolkata: K P Bagchi, 2009.

Darian, Steven G. The Ganges in Myth and History. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass , 2001.

Das, Suranjan and Basudeb Chattopadhyay. Europe and the Hughli The European Settlements on the West Bank of the River. Kolkata: K.P Bagchi, 2014.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Opressed. Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1972.

“Hugli River”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014




River Song Ganga Amar Ma

My research on people’s relationship to rivers had led me to find this inspiring song about the Ganga and Padma rivers. My sole purpose of this post is to share this lovely song with you. To share.

This is an inspiring song composed by Bhupen Hazarika and sung by Runa Laila. It has deep influences from Bengali and Assamese folk music. Its style is connected to the Bhatiyali genre, which is a type of traditional folk song sung by boatmen in the rivers of Bengal while travelling downstream the river. These songs have a contemplative and mystic component in them. Common topics are nature, love, oneness and people’s connection to rivers. I couldn’t find an English translation of this song yet. Also, I couldn’t translate this song myself because my Bengali is limited. Thus, the best online explanation about the meaning of this song is from another blog called Naman Astitva,

“It is a Bengali folk song of the Bhatiyali genre, often sung by the boatman on trips across the Ganga and the Padma rivers. Its meaning of the words is subtle yet beautiful citing that we are all essentially the same. The best line in this song – we share one sky, one breeze and one breath citing that we have one mother – which is the River Ganges. It continues – one wishes, one love, one set of tears, one set of sorrows etc. ”

excerpt from blog Naman Astitva, This is a great blog you should check it out.


The River Cuts Through All The (Bull)Shit

The river cuts through All

The shit floating in its water surface.

Human shit,

Pig shit,

Uncategorized shit,

But mostly bullshit

All discharged without treatment,


By untamed minds.


Silently and with a gentle smile,

The river takes it All.

Not complaining,

Not holding grudges,

Not breaking down.

It continues its dance of Infinite Joy.


One might ask,

“How can one take so much shit without returning some shit?”

Confused folks start hypothesizing:

A) The river is stupid (so they try to take advantage of the river).

B) The river is weak (so they try to manipulate and dam the river).

C) The river has hidden intentions (so they stay cautious and avoid the river).

Nonetheless even after much brainstorming,

They still can’t arrive at a satisfactory answer.

“What a weird river!” folks say.

Perhaps it’s because the river has realized its divine duty in life.

Its purpose being to serve All.

Hence even though the river is surrounded by all types of shit,

It will not become like it.

Only the surrounding shit disintegrates and becomes part of the deep river.


Oh! The deep river flows with such a mystical divine Beauty.

Even after being dumped with so much shit and pollution…

What a Beauty!

Artists have tried to paint

The contrasting harmony of the orange sun setting in the dark blue Ganga waters,

The heavy colored ghats1 filled with people performing pujas2.

Poets have tried to recount

The galloping water charging in like Alexander’s mighty cavalry,

The sunlight reflected on the water like an eternal waltz between Mr. Sun and Lady Ganga.

Composers have tried to capture

The undulating sound of waves caressing the ghat,

That crispy tune of fisherman boats gliding through the water.

Dancers have to tried to express

The inner flow of the river in their body movements,

The melting of their solid bodies into rhythmic flowing water.

Singers have tried to convey in their songs

The mood of a meditative boat journey down the river,

The explosive energy of pushing a fishing boat up the river,

And the overflowing Love that pilgrims and worshippers have for this River.


Devoted pilgrims have travelled to the shrines up in the Himalayas to worship the Mother Ganga,

Who descended upon the Earth through Shiva’s hair.

Dividing itself into seven streams,

Three to the east,

Three to the west,

And one following sage Bhagiratha,

Who dedicated his life to worship and austerities,

The one who was destined to liberate the souls of his ancestors,

The sixty thousand sons of King Sagara.

All of them torched to ashes by sage Kapila’s yogic fire

After wrongly accusing him of stealing King Sagara’s horse and attacking him.

After a long journey following sage Bhagiratha,

The Ganga finally flowed through their leap of ashes,

Cleansing and freeing their lost souls.


After listening to the story of Ganga’s descent to Earth,

An upper caste man claims with pride,

“Ganga-jal (water) is never dirty.”

Yet right in front of his face

A big piece of shit floats by the water.

“It’s Ok,” he says.

But then he walks to the farther and ‘cleaner’ side of the ghat and takes a ‘holy’ dip into the water.

‘Purifying himself.’


One might ask,

From what?

Is it from the so called ‘unclean’ things?

How ‘clean’ are you?

Is it from those ‘unclean’, low caste things?

Those ‘unclean’, low caste, poor, jealous, darker-skinned, violent, uneducated things?

Drop it!

These things that you ignore and try to clean out from your conscience

Are your fellow brothers and sisters

Who work as your maidservants, rickshaw drivers and garbage collectors.

Who you have talked down on and thrown money at,

Who you have denied their right to exist as respected human beings.

Using manipulative schemes and distorted economic rationality,

A hidden system of oppression has been cast upon the common people,

That confines the poor into slums,

Denies their right to education,

Limits access to clean water and sanitation,

While pumping in messages that people from these slums are

Worthless, stupid and lazy.

Sadly, young people start to believe in these messages.

Slowly they embody these negative expectations.

Soon a cycle of mutual destruction starts,

Rape, murder, robbery, drug dealing.

Everything happens,

By the riverside.


The flowing river sees it All,

And cuts through all the (bull)shit.

Just like Goddess Durga equipped with the divine Sword,

Chopping through the armies of the King Buffalo Demon Mahisha.

For nine nights this bloody battle lasted,

Until she finally meets the charging Buffalo Demon,`

And she chops off his head.

While Mahisha was in mid transformation back to his human form,

Durga slays him with Shiva’s trident,

Earning her the title of Mahishasura Mardini,

Also known as The Slayer of Buffalo Demon Mahisha.

On the tenth day,

Durga stood victorious,

Restoring the cosmic order of the Universe.

This victorious battle is now celebrated during Durga puja,

Also called Navratri – The Festival of Nine Nights.

This is one of Hindus biggest and most important festivals.

This is a time for setting up pandals3 to be immersed into the Ganga

Accompanied by music, mantras, dance and social gatherings.

Perhaps a time for releasing the wild side within.


Hopefully one day,

Following Goddess Durga’s example,

People will delve within and slay their own inner bull demons,

Tame their minds,

And open their Lotus Hearts.

Only then can they realize the bit of Truth in the saying that

The Ganga is never dirty,

Not in the physical sense,

But Spiritually.

Remember this teaching my friend,

No shit can make you dirty if your Heart is pure.


1  Series of steps that lead into the river.

2  An act of worship.

3  Large temporary structures erected during Hindu acts of worship, in this case the worship of Durga’s victory over Mahisha.



Monsoon on Hooghly

The Hooghly River Tide runs high.

Its currents dance through

The Ghats

Where the common people bathe, wash, clean their clothes;

Where Brahmin priests perform sacred rituals and offerings;

Where dogs, pigs and crows scavenge for food amidst the trash.


The River is the Eternal witness.

It observes and observes.

It has seen human depravity at its peak.

Ships carrying people’s own brothers and sisters in chains to be sold as ‘commodities’.

The dumping of battered women’s bodies after monstrous rape crimes.

Bloody political and religious riots with brothers and sisters killing each other.

But the River has also seen the best within the human heart.

Unknown people jumping into the water to save a drowning child.

Ferrymen selflessly working day and night carrying people across the river.

Kind souls praying in Its margins for humanity to Awaken

And realize its current path towards self-destruction.


The River has seen it All.

Unaffected by anything,

Its currents dance

Up and down,

Left and Right.

Ever free.

Freely dancing.

Attached to nothing,

Only absorbed in the Eternal Flow of Infinite Joy and Beauty.


One night the River Tide was dancing,

Rocking the wooden fishermen cribs to sleep

At the tune of a Bhatiyali* folk song.

The River Tide loved the fishermen;

It brought them fish and sustenance.

The fishermen would reciprocate Its Love;

They cared for the River and worshipped it through songs.

That night,

When the fishermen feel asleep in their undulating cribs,

The River Tide decided to look up into the sky;

And saw a Beautiful Moon dancing amidst the clouds.

Being non-dual in nature, the River had both male and female characteristics

Yet the River fell prey to the Passions.

Gradually It started to lose its female energy and only retained its male characteristics.

It shifted to become the male Tidal energy.

Every night the Tide would stare at the Moon.

The Tide would imagine that the Moon’s reflection in its waters would be

The real Moon resting on his lap.

How He longed for that to happen.

The Moon noticed how the Tide stared at Her every night

With eyes full of desire and passion;

She decided to play with his thief like senses.

The lady Moon dressed herself in the finest white silk

And with a soft voice,

She sensually called the Tide to come closer to Her,

The excited and charmed Tide blindly followed her orders.

As the tide tried to reach closer,

The Moon would slowly take off her white silken dress.

Assaulted by desire,

The Tide bubbled in ecstasy.

He tried harder and harder to reach her yet she was too far away.

The same process repeated itself for several nights.

Until one night while leaking a smile of mockery,

The Moon completely vanished like a mirage.

In reality, the Moon had no interest for the Tide.

Her heart longed for the Sun

Yet destiny had them separated.

Rarely meeting.

Performing their God given duties at different times of the day.


The poor Tide seeing the Moon vanish before His eyes,

Finally faced the harsh reality of Desire and Passion.

They will soon and suddenly vanish one day;

Only leaving a trail of hopeless longing and suffering.

Sad, angry and depressed,

The Tide caused chaos everywhere it flowed through:

Sunken boats,

Drowned people,

Flooded banks.

The Tide selfishly flowed its way towards the Sea.

The Heavenly Cloud seeing all this suffering on Earth

Shed tears,

Tiny tear droplets gently embraced the heart broken Tide.

Calming It,

Healing It,

Restoring It.

The Cloud also asked its Thunder child to soar loud in the skies.

It summoned Its Wind friends from all directions.

All together they comforted the Tide saying,

You are not alone,

We see your suffering.

Awaken my friend! Awaken!

Realize Impermanence in your desires and passions!

Remember your long lost non-duality!

And strive for Liberation!

Then you shall lose your fear for the fast approaching Sea!

One day you will Ascend into the Clouds with us and become One with All!

Flow on, my friend! Flow on!

Monsoon has arrived!


*Bhatiyali – Traditional folk songs sung by boatmen in the rivers of Bengal while navigating the river. These songs worship Nature and have a mystic component in them.