Editor’s note: Quotes have been edited for clarity.
For nearly 24 hours, about three dozen men from Rajasthan bumped along roads together in a charter bus. They were part of the new Indian middle class, and with that status and money, they set out on a short vacation from their arid home region in 2007. Destination: the ocean.
“We have seen a lot of water before — in rivers,” they told photographer Martin Bogren. “And we’ve seen eternity in the sense of the desert.” But they had only dreamed of the impossible vastness of the ocean. It was a dream that some of them had for a decade.
At the moment that the men finally collided with the Indian Ocean, Bogren also intersected them, by accident. It was 5:30 in the morning, and as he walked along the beach, Bogren spotted a small group of men quietly looking out across the water. He raised his camera.
As Bogren continued to observe them, a man shook himself from the cluster and went down to the shoreline. He tested the water with his toe. A wave surged and swept up toward him, and as he grabbed the hand of one of his friends, Bogren realized that the men had never experienced the ocean before.
Bogren photographed them growing more comfortable in the water, making up games and throwing each other in the air. He never made a plan to meet them at a certain place or time — as he wasn’t sure himself whether he would return the next day — but each morning he would find himself back at the same spot on the beach. He would find them, too, not far from where he first spotted them, and they would invite him to come over.
For four days, Bogren photographed them. On the fifth day they were gone.
Though some of the men knew English, Bogren didn’t ask them a lot of questions about their background. “Our connection to each other was the water … That, I think, was enough for them and was enough for me,” he said.
Martin Bogren’s book “Ocean” was published by Journal in 2008.
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