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Retired boats” at the Varanasi Ghats: watercolour on paper:

You will find the “Vele Baba”(Free Old Man in Hindi), sharp from 7:00 in the morning till 5:00pm can’t miss his white beard, It’s getting dark on this ghat at this time. Baba waits cross legged, for the pilgrims to rent him and his boat to ride across the holy Ganges.

Sitting under the hundred years old Banyan Tree, he spends his time talking to his boat, which is now perched at the far reaches of the bank, his tea is special, -extra cream and smokes 7 biddis to be exact every day. Baba is wise to ration his habits and stick to his ritual. I found him on his fourth.

 Ram Khilawan aka ” Vele Baba”, as known in his younger days recalls how the young couples used to take his multi colored boat ride to the holiest Shiva temple in India ” The Vishwanath Temple”.

"The couple would come all red with "sindoor"(Vermillion) on their forehead, looking funny and glow in the evening, Shiva blesses everybody", he says with his shining stained yellow teeth. His face swells "I was among the fastest boatman in my time", It’s bad times, nowadays I  get very less customers. The boat also needs a coat of fresh paint

Lost in his thought, His slumber is awakened by the Buffaloes descending from the age old broken, clay tiled stairs of the Ghat, for their ritual bath. I think they nod to him! in respect.

The wooden broken boat is cleaned twice a day with the towel, Vele Baba keeps to shoo away the flies.. Like his broken boat, he is unable to move much.. He is a proud man and hates being helped by his sons, so they leave him alone.. Sometimes longer than usual.

Sipping his 5th special chai (tea),he narrates the age old process of boat building with me. He had built this boat with his own hand.

The last time I said goodbye, he was still sitting under the shadow and like his boat he is still and patient. The air is now filled with the mix smell of cow dung and sweet Fragrance of essence stick, burnt to appease the ageless gods. It’s the Arati time.

If ever you visit the Lalita Ghat in Varanasi, you will find him, if not him, maybe his boat..waiting for the pilgrims for a ride across the holy river. 

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