Referred as ‘Cultural brokers’ by Subhandu Patra (Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi),a boatman is a professional who takes you to your destination via waterways. Though boatman used to be a well paying profession earlier, it no more is. Now it is limited to being a secondary guide who gives you a brief overview of the river banks and its histories. A boatman will introduce the culture of the city with you for a short travel on water.
In Venice a boatman is called a Gondolier. Earlier Gondola(a type of local boat in Venice) used to be a prime mode of transport in Venice. Imagine the gondoliers were Uver drivers of old time Venice. People would ride in the Gondolas and tip their favorite gondoliers.
Significance of a boatman is quite evident with the fact that one of the most cherished painters of America Robert Fredrick Blum painted a scenery of Gondolas plying on water.
The boatman of Venice played an important role in the lives of people of Venice. Even today, Venice is famous for romantic boat rides and its boatmen in back trousers and striped shirts with caps on.
Why does a boatman and his boat elicit such strong emotions. One tends to go into a reverie while they are traveling. This happens almost every time we are traveling a train or car. When we travel in a boat the experience of being in a reverie is further accentuated. Traveling in a water body in a hand rowed boat is quite different. Its actually very similar to walking. Both walking and traveling in a boat are quite rejuvenating !
Boatman’s profession is now impacted by lot of factors. Its a low paying profession.
But i certainly is a mode of transport that is quite different.
Hopefully we shall have certain innovations in this profession that keep it viable for people to pursue it. Otherwise in future we might miss out to lovely boat rides with a boatman.