100 Days in India Project

Boats on the river Ganges in Varanasi, India

58/ 100 Fishing for Oranges

One day in the Indian city of Varanasi, which is also called Benares and Banaras to make things more confusing, we witnessed a small moment in time that was both heartwarming and slightly saddening and profoundly affected us both.

We liked to get up early to go out and take photographs and make sketches of the edges of the river Ganges slowly coming to life at dawn. Even though the sun hadn’t quite risen there were plenty of people already hard at work, doing things like washing clothes or ferrying people up and down the river on boats. There were always folk who had come to bathe in the river for religious reasons, although I never really felt comfortable photographing them as it seemed to be a deeply personal moment and not one for me to post on the internet.

Walking along the quiet stone ghats, squeezing past the dozing cattle that had yet to waken, we came across a very thin old man, perhaps in his 70s, using a long stick to poke around in the sludge and detritus that lined the banks of the river. It was difficult to see what he was doing at first but then, amongst the rotting flower garlands, burned out foil candle boats, kite strings and goodness knows what else, was a battered and bruised orange floating around 2 meters from the shore.

For about 15 minutes he gently nudged and coaxed the orange closer to his bare feet with his stick, accumulating a small gathering of encouraging onlookers as he did so. Sometimes he would accidentally knock his prize further away and it would get lodged underneath a floating plastic bag. At one point he had almost managed to get it within an arms length when the wake of a passing boat washed it further away again. Never seeming to lose his patience or focus he kept guiding the orange until, finally, he managed to carefully crouch down and grab it. He turned to us triumphantly and I shall never forget the look of absolute delight on his face.

Here was a man who had spent a quarter of a hour fishing in what is essentially sewage, and his only reward was an old orange. We had absolutely no food or money with us to offer him but, if our experiences of the people in this country were anything to go by, his sense of pride would have prevented him from accepting anything from us anyway. He walked away, eating his salvaged fruit, and I think of him every time I see food being wasted.