October 17, 2021

Scenes from a boat race

After years and years of dreaming and planning, I finally found myself at the Nehru Boat Race in Alleppy last weekend. I joined an enthusiastic group of photographers at the weekend workshop organized by Photography Onthemove – when I say enthusiastic, I mean that most of them were to be found all the time taking pictures of others in the group, well, taking pictures of others in the group and so on…

We stayed at the back-packer’s resort Bamboo Stix – a narrow strip of land between the grey-blue backwaters and lush green paddy fields. The first two days was devoted to classroom sessions and a lot of practice shoots.

And then on Saturday, we headed out bright and early – at 11 a.m. for the race that was to begin at 2.30 p.m. By the time we reached, the place was filled with boats – we jumped from our boat into another which was already waiting for us and set about waiting for the race to begin. And we waited and we waited – through the innumerable practice runs and later, speeches by local dignitaries and the President of India. And then the flag off!

Most of the times, we had no clue about what was going on – was it the pre-heats or the heats? Did this team not pass us just now? Where are the women rowers in their pretty blue blouses and sparkling white saris? And most importantly, why is the beer not getting cold?

And so we sweltered on, more than a dozen of us under the harsh August sun. After a while, the spectators began to provide better entertainment (how many similar-looking boats can you keep looking at and photographing, you tell me?) – an Italian Mel Gibson lookalike (according to a friend) who had hired the next boat all for himself, the swarthy red-faced Brit who dropped his phone into the water (too much beer), restless children wanting to go home, toddy working its magic (!) on locals in the neighboring boats – cheering for opposing teams soon leading to fist-fights – and soon, the quick flash of a knife!

And at long last, the finals – and the winner iiiiis… who knows? All in all, great fun!

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