. Ha !

By K S Venkataraman

e-mail:  thepatrika@aol.com

In India, from time immemorial rivers have been used as a metaphor for life’s challenges. Hina-yaanam  (literally, the Small Vehicle or Boat) and Maha Yaanam (Big Vehicle or Boat) are Buddhism’s two branches. The Yaanam is for crossing the river of Duhkham (discontentment in life). Samsara sarovar (the sea of life) is the expression used again and again in Dharma-based literature. Teerthankaras (literally, Boatmen Who Help to Cross the River) are great teachers in the Jain tradition helping people to cross the river of life.

River as a metaphor for life in India is entirely understandable since rivers, big-and-small, are everywhere that people need to cross — the mighty Brahmaputra, Sindhu, and Ganga, the erratic Kosi; and the Narmada, Tapti, Mahanadi, Godavari and Krishna, Kaveri, Kaaladi…

So, it is not surprising that the Urdu poets too have used rivers and boats as metaphors in their poetry. Here is a doha (couplet) by Akhbar Allahabadi (1846-1921), sent to us by Harish Saluja, the painter, music lover, film producer/director… :


The difference between old and new ‘light’ (wisdom) is this:

 One can’t find the boat, and the other can’t find the shore.

The “old” and the “new” can be interpreted generationally as the old people and young people in every era; or as Old Wisdom and New Wisdom in the chronological sense.

River-and-boat based themes and motifs have continued to fascinate Indians as we see in popular songs with great lyrics, tuned to melodious folk-tunes and beautifully picturized in films. Here are  examples you can access on YouTube:

Asaiyé alaipolé  (Tamil):  www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydi-WAnlXfE

Odam nadiyinilé (Tamil):  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq3DDO7gNYg

Kari mukhil kaattilé (Malayalam):  www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIfv-KpmN7I

O ré maaji mera saajan he us par:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OVFQVNlU1U

O maaji ré  (Hindi):  www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD6UvXVyfpI

Majhi baiya jau re (Bengali):  www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5U9dUpM3vA

In Asaiye Alaipole a boatman is shown ferrying people across a river, singing in a typical folksy tune about people getting tossed hither and tither in the waves of the river, an apt metaphor for a life full of desires and their pursuits.    ♣

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