“… it is the desert’s grimness, its stillness and isolation, that bring us back to love. Here we discover the paradox of the contemplative life, that the desert of solitude can be the school where we learn to love others.” – Kathleen Norris
I’m here to tell you a story but it is not a fable. The land is barren and the people live a solitary life. Their constant wretchedness compels one to accept their faith. There isn’t any magic either. These people have submitted themselves to their woes and perpetual destitution, for there isn’t any genie to heed their cries of grief and anguish. The heavens above are overcast, as if stretching their sorrows into infinity. Unlike Alice, I didn’t fall into a rabbit hole for Alice was in Wonderland. This wasn’t the seventh heaven and neither utopia.
The countryside of the Great Indian Desert reminds one of calamitous resignation. Forget the frivolous tourist trivia. For once, forget the grandeur of forts and the opulence of past Maharajas.
And now rouse yourself to mull over the hardship endured by the rural communities of the Thar Desert.
A confirmed suspicion of empathy?
As I traveled through the vastness of the Thar, it seemed to me as if a vagabond were on the loose, snatching away the dreams of millions.
For generations, the rural communities of the Thar have withstood the worst of Mother Nature. The rural landscape of Rajasthan is unlike any other. The people face the unfathomable task of satisfying their hunger and thirst. Surely, this does not align with the idea of modern India.
Imagine how one stays in the radius two to three kilometers for one’s entire life, surrounded by vast tracts of fields and occasional signs of life. How one’s livelihood is dependent on rainfall. People like me consider rainfall to be romantic and pleasant, but for the people of the Thar, it is a life giver.
We are driven by greed, and they are driven by need. Here’s a home without an address, can you think of that? Here’s a home without any road leading up to it.
Condemn me for not being an idealist, but this is the bitter reality prevailing in the Thar Desert.
In this land of majestic dunes, the desires of the people are muffled and windswept. Their entreaties have been entangled in the web of corrupt bureaucracy.
From water woes to healthcare, the evils have fashioned nuisance in every rural household. Entwined between urban ideals and rural tradition, the people today are staring at a future which offers bleak prospects of sustainable change.
In this sterile terrain, one finds traces of hope and cauldrons of love. Unblemished by the vagabond lurking. For all their adversities, the people of the Thar have taught me to be a simple human being. As urban dwellers, we have become materialistic and wanton in our quest for money and growth. We have failed to recall the ailings of Mother Nature. I realized that our love for each other has elapsed. The passion for generosity long gone.
By the time I completed my journey, it seemed oddly as if a magical spell had been cast upon me. A spell of love and inspiration.
Never will I forget the desolate tracts of Rajasthan, for they filled me with warmth and fizzled out the shivers of winter cold.
*Pratik Tandon, Intern. Originally from New Delhi, India. He currently studies at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication in Pune.