Published: 24th January 2019
This 76-year-old boatman has been ferrying children across the Tungabhadra to school free of cost
A boatman of the people, UK Mallanna loves to ferry students across the river and never expects anything in return
Meet UK Mallanna, a 76-year-old boatman from Shimoga who loves to ferry school and college students across the river. He is so famous that almost everyone in Ramanna Shreshti Park knows his name. Popularly known as Dhoni Ramanna, Mallanna began his career when he was just 15 years old. Though boating is his livelihood, he does not demand a particular amount for his services. His customers pay him what they can, sometimes just five or ten rupees, and he is always happy with what he gets. "I believe in the principle of 'work is worship'. Helping people, especially children, through my work makes me happy. I try to see my own children through them and that helps me feel like I am not alone in this journey of life. I have been rendering this service for 61 years and I have never been tired of it," says Mallanna.
Like every other city, even Shimoga has developed over the years. River Tungabhadra, which flows through it, divides the region into two. While the old city rests on one side of the river, villages and new layouts have been formed on the other side. So, if the locals need to get to their offices, schools or colleges in the old city, then being ferried across the river on Mallanna's boat is the shortcut route. People from areas like Urgadur, Madari Palya. Savai Palya, Vidya Nagar and Indira Nagar use the service frequently.
Sailor story: Mallanna's service is available between 8:30 am and 6:30 pm
Carrying the legacy forward
Mallana is not the only boatman in his family. His father and grandfather were boatmen too. "My ancestors used to ferry people during the reign of the famous Keladi ruler, Shivappa Nayaka. Recognising their hard work and contributions to society, the ruler rewarded a few acres of land to my ancestors. But I have no idea where it is now. And I am the last one from my family to work as a boatman as none of my siblings showed interest to take it up."
Mallanna's job does not end with just ferrying children across the river, he even counsels them about bad habits like chewing tobacco or smoking. He says, "I have observed many teenagers falling prey to bad habits for various reasons. Sometimes, their parents don't have any idea what their children are doing in schools. In such cases, I feel it's my duty to advise them." Besides this, Mallanna has also saved over 40 people from committing suicide by drowning. Without a second thought, Mallanna has swum across the river and saved them from their mistake. He helps them understand that every life is precious and that death will bring them nothing but a bad name.
I earn Rs 200-300 every day and it depends on the number of people who come. The Karnataka State Labour Department awarded me a cash prize of Rs 10,000. It is the temples or anganwadis that give me food every day. I have nothing to complain about in life
U K Mallanna, Boatman
Unlike most of us who enjoy holidays and get away from work, Mallanna's boat service is available throughout the year. Come rain, winter or summer, the river flows throughout the year and hence, he ferries people from one end to the other, every day. "During the monsoon, the water level increases, but I know how to control the boat against the water current. If there are many people to ferry, I divide them into batches and take them as per their convenience. No matter what, I choose to row my boat every day and don't take holidays," he says.
People's hero: He is loved and respected by everyone in Shimoga
A friend to everyone
With his great social service and expecting nothing in return, Mallanna has won people's hearts irrespective of caste, creed and religion. He says, "Be it Muslim, Christian or Hindu, everyone greets me and respects and recognises my hard work. During festivals, they even invite me home for food. But I can't go as there are people who need to be ferried even during festivals. I don't like to disappoint them without my service."