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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Rann Story: a travelogue (Contd.)

Chapter-2

The space

4th May 2010, Kharaghoda

After a long walk, we reached our location. It was blank. Absoutely bank! The only thing which I could see cleary was the horizon An infinite, wide horizon which had stories to tell, stories which it had seen. The strong sound of the breeze constantly made me realise that there’s no one here- no people, no vehicles, no city, no village… just the salty sand, the wide horizon and the strong breeze.

We stood there watching it for sometime. Achint and me looked so small in front of the huge Rann. Or may be, the whole humanity looked so small in front of it. It was powerful. I could sense why people in the older days were scared of travelling too far. They thought that the earth is not round but flat. May be sights like these scared them to travel beyond a certain point.

Like them, I could feel that fear again. I asked myself, “Is the earth actually round?”

We started looking for space for our sets. Achint was guiding me and I was trying to listen to him. The May heat and the hot breeze was quite distracting. We roamed around for sometime and after some recce, we decided that we’ll have to make about 4 tents, as a part of the set.

It was around 3 pm and the breeze was extremely hot, may be the heat was it’s peak now. We started walking back to our room in the Desert Outpost. As we walked, we saw trucks filled with salt crossing us. There was a very little patch of a proper road. A major part of the trucks’ route was on the sand… with very few landmarks. May be, none at all!

We came back to the room. It was quite silent and cool inside, may be because of the way the British had built the roof, or may be because of the bamboo mats pasted on the walls, or may be because we were too tired of facing that hot sandy breeze while walking . I was lost in all these thoughts and I don’t remember when did I go off to sleep. It was one of those naps where there is a thin line between your thoughts and the dreams. You don’t know whether you’re thinking, or is it just a dream.

Achint woke me and brought me out of that dream v/s thought conflict. I could hear the breeze outside. He said that two labourers had come to meet us. They would be working on constructing the sets. He wanted me to meet them. I got up and checked the time- it was 4:30. I didn’t realise that I had slept for about an hour.

I stepped out of my room, and I saw two men sitting in the verandah. They looked in their thirties, and both of them were wearing clean trousers with shirts untucked. They were wearing rubber slippers on their feet and one of them carried a gamchha or a rural Indian multi-purpose towel around his shoulders. I smiled at them and they folded their hands to greet me. We shook hands and I said, “Main Harish hoon. Achint ke sath aaya hoon, Ahmedabad se.

(I am Harish, I have come with Achint from Ahmedabad)

The man with the gamchha replied, “Main Mohan aur ye mere saale Rakes bhai!” (I am Mohan and this is my brother-in-law Rakes bhai!)

We were waiting for Achint to join us, as he would talk to them about the work we needed to be done at the location. There was this awkward silence during the wait, so to break it asked them that where are they from. Mohan bhai replied that they’re both from Kharaghoda. I knew that this was the Little rann of Kutch, so I asked them whether they speak in Kutchi at home? But they told me that everyone spoke in Gujarati there. I didn’t know this. Apparently, Kutchi was spoken in the Greater Rann of Kutch and the Bhuj area(Kutch) and not in the little Rann of kutch.

Achint joined us and we spoke about the tents, the location and the construction. These two men were actually salt farmers. They had come to work for our sets, so that they would get another source of income, apart from the salt farming. They had a group of men who would come to the location the next day to work.

One thing which I clearly remember is the pride with which Mohan bhai replied when Achint asked him that what do they do for a living, “Hum kisaan hain!” (We are farmers.)

I still don’t know what, but there was something magical in the way he said, or may be what he said!

It was 8:00 pm and we were sitting in the dining hall, waiting for our dinner. It was a ver British-Indian Army like dining hall, with pictures of men in uniform on the walls around us. Boota singh brought in the food. He looked to be in his fifties. There were other things apart from his name which were strange. That smile which he always carried, was quite unusual. He served us sev-tameta, chhaas, rotis, rice and dal. The food was quite good.

As we ate in silence I was lost in thoughts. This place was so different from the towns I have lived in or from the places where I have travelled to. I could sense the uniformed men caged in the wooden frames on the wall, constantly looking at both of us enjoyiying the food in silence.

The cool chhaas after the dinner was like heaven. I sat in the verandah with Achint. He lit a cigarette and I kept looking out at the rann, the silent rann. In that moment of silence, I kept thinking of the work which would start early morning the next day.

There was cool breeze which could easily make you forget the hot breeze which you had experienced just a few hours ago. The smell of that cool sandy breeze mixed with the smell of Achint’s burning cigarette created an aroma. I didn’t know then that this new smell would go on to become ‘the’ memory of the Rann for me.

Achint finished his cigarette. I kept looking out. I kept thinking…

© K. Harish Singh 2010