By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

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Watery Inspirations

For centuries, writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers have been inspired by rivers. From the Nile to the Rhine, the Ganga to the Mississipi, the sheer beauty of these passages of water have fascinated and perplexed people. They are not just regarded as a source of life, but also as a portal into the unknown. What’s Up, Germany? explores the river in popular culture. We’ve specially handpicked some river-related literature, art, films and songs for you!

Prominent among the vast storehouse of India’s river-inspired literature is Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide: A Novel. Set in the delicate ecosystem of the Sundarbans, the novel explores the relationship between the people and the water of the land in an era deeply affected by climate change. Another significant work is the non-fiction book Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia, which covers the author’s exploratory journey from Karachi all the way to Tibet, where the river Indus originates. Another notable work is Amruta Patil’s graphic novel Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, a feminist retelling of the Mahabharata from the point of view of the river Ganga.

TIDAL TALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Even the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, which was inscribed on clay tablets dating back to 1800 BC and is possibly the oldest story known to mankind, tells a tale of lives deeply intertwined with rivers. Here, water is a source of both rejuvenation and destruction. Neither good nor evil, it simply represents the cycle of life and death. Then there’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the inspiration behind Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. In the book, the Congo River grants access into the “dark continent” of Africa, and the arduous physical journey leads to an exploration of one’s subconscious mind. Other well-known river books include Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and the light-hearted Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome.

FLUID FRAMES

In the world of cinema, rivers have inspired classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a British-American war film; the Brad Pitt-starrer A River Runs Through It; The River Wild, a 1994 thriller starring

Meryl Streep shot on the Salmon River in Idaho; and Into the Wild, which tells the compelling story of Christopher McCandless’ adventures on the Colorado River and in the Alaskan wilderness. Noteworthy Indian films told on the banks of the Ganga include Deepa Mehta’s Water, an emotional story about child marriage and widowhood; and Masaan, a 2015 drama about four lives intersecting along the river.

WATER SONGS

Singers and songwriters have taken inspiration from rivers and turned it into beautiful music. “Maa Rewa” by the well-known band Indian Ocean delightfully conveys the significance of the Narmada River, also known as the Rewa. Songs like “Rivers of Babylon” by Boney M, “River of Dreams” by Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” and CCR’s “Proud Mary” are classics that use river symbolism and continue to rock even today! More recent river songs to tap your feet to include “I Follow Rivers” by Lykke Li and “Down By the River” by Milky Chance.

TIDAL TUNES

The beauty and fury of rivers has also been captured on canvas. Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night over the Rhone” and Claude Monet’s “The Seine at Lavacourt” are among the most celebrated paintings. Indian works of repute include MF Husain’s “Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12”, which depicts the divine personifications of the two rivers in a cosmic civil war. Sculptures depicting the river goddesses Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati grace temple doors and historical sites across the country. In 2017, the Silk River project brought together artists from India and the UK to make ten silk flags, celebrating the unique relationship between people living on the banks of the Hooghly and the Thames.

What's Up, Germany?'s Top 10 River Books

1. The Hungry Tide: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh

2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

3. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul

4. Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

5. The River Why by David James Duncan

6. Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean by Amruta Patil

7. A River Runs through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean

8. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

9. Along the Ganges by Ilija Trojanow

10. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

What's Up, Germany?'s Top 10 River Books

1. The Hungry Tide: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh

2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

3. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul

4. Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

5. The River Why by David James Duncan

6. Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean by Amruta Patil

7. A River Runs through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean

8. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

9. Along the Ganges by Ilija Trojanow

10. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

“A river does not just happen; it has a beginning and an end. Its story is written in rich earth, in ice, and in water-carved stone, and its story as the lifeblood of the land is filled with colour, music and thunder.”
— Andy Russell, author

“A river does not just happen; it has a beginning and an end. Its story is written in rich earth, in ice, and in water-carved stone, and its story as the lifeblood of the land is filled with colour, music and thunder.”
— Andy Russell, author