By Adnan Abidi
“Ganges is Holy,” said my boatman as I pointed my camera to photograph devotees half submerged in the blackish brown waters of the sacred river, the second most polluted in India. It was my third day on a photography assignment on Bihar- a sprawling state on the Gangetic plains of eastern India. My brief was to cover the overall progress of Bihar, hence I planned to photograph a bridge under construction over this sacred river. After a couple of shots with my wide angle lens I shifted to telephoto and as I zoomed in I saw a crow, a crow savoring or maybe just sitting on a corpse.
The boatman wasn’t as shocked as I was. This was no extraordinary sight for him. He continued to praise the progress of the state, and its new efficient minister but said things will not change overnight. On seeing me still shocked about the corpse he revealed that as Hinduism describes Moksha as liberation from the cycle of life and death, freedom forever from earthly miseries and sufferings, the holy river Ganges is believed to be a pathway to attain Moksha. And Hindus believe that dying on the banks of this holy river enable a soul to attain Moksha. So at very short intervals, sometime just weeks, people here see corpses floating on the river, and its an accepted phenomenon. He said that’s the way of life here and still there was progress!
I smiled at his optimism. He was all praises about the current government and the development it had brought even though personally he still lived hand-to-mouth. Earning his daily bread was an extreme challenge, for he like many boatmen had no option but to stay in the boat (floating in water) as they could not afford land. Even though there is a lack of basic resources, catastrophic flooding every year, and the lingering impact of poor past governance, there was a ray of hope in Bihar. I wondered if all this progress could bridge the gap between prosperity and poverty- a mammoth task that lay ahead for the current Bihar government.