I began my Camel ride into the desert after a drive of 50km from the city of Jaisalmer. We were four tourists – me, Amedeo and two really old Germans – Christian and Heinz. There is nothing much, in fact nothing at all that you will see on your way to the dunes of Thar from the city. All you can do is ponder over the vastness of the barren lands that come en route. Also you won’t even blink your eyes considering the speed of the Mahindra Jeep even when there is vehicle from the opposite direction on the thin one lane road. The driver – Babu Singh Ji, proud of his skills, giving a twist to his big black moustache every time the two Germans in their late 60s squeal because of his fearsome driving.
As we reached the beginning of the sand dunes in the desert after about an hour’s drive, our hauling vehicle changed to a Camel-the ship of the desert. So two Camel-men: Narender Singh and Amey Singh took us on four Camels; late in the afternoon at about 4pm. Narender was 18 years old while Amey, just 13 was just starting his career as a Camel-man.
We started our journey on Camel backs riding through the barren lands and cactus plants. After about an hour of ride on the hump, we were crossing a small village called TEJ SIYA of about 40-50 people and decided to take a break.
The people of the village, like most others in and around Jaisalmer, were pretty used to seeing tourists. As we entered the small village, we could see that it only had mud houses and the most wealthy owned 3-5 goats but no camels. But still the big-hearted people find just enough to feed the stray dogs or make them their pets.
The ladies in the diminutive village invited us in their petite mud homes, with no electricity, for tea or coffee, mostly in the expectation that the foreign tourists would give them some sort of “inaam”. This was one of the only sources of income for some of them as about 20-25 foreign tourists visit the place each day!
As the awe-faced foreign tourists clicked the miseries of these poor people’s lives, suddenly a dozen small kids came running towards us with GULAL in their hands shouting “HOLI HAI”.
While I and Amedeo accepted their love with smiling cheeks now covered pink, the two old Germans were frightened of the infection all this could cause. The brood loved talking to us and asked for chocolates as and when they could find a chance to. The smiles on their faces grew with each photograph I took with them but went down whenever I told them I had no chocolates. So I took out the only packet of Lays I had and distributed to each one of them; much like Prasad in a temple but much to their delight.
The kids felt overjoyed and my fellow Germans looked even more confused. A picture to remember the beautiful moments of talking, clicking, eating, laughing and Holi I had spent with them made my day. The feeling that one got in that village cannot be explained in words. We soon bid farewell to them and continued on our Camels into the desert.
Soon after watching the sunset, we settled onto a nice comfortable sand dune and built a night fire. Lying down on the mattress that our Camels carried for us and looking at the full moon going up, Christian sat next to me, all confused and mystified by the colours of Rajasthan and beauty of the desert at night.
“I love India” said Christian
“So do I.” I said smiling at him
“But I don’t understand this place. In Germany people are so rich. We have all the money and comfort we need. India has nothing. These people are so poor. Yet, these people are always smiling. In Germany, people are always complaining and crying. They are not as happy as these pitiable people. Why?” Christian asked as the Camel-men started cooking food for us.
“I have no clue. Indians are content I guess. The poor, especially here, have accepted their fate and remain happy with whatever they get. And also, they thank god each day for whatever little He has given them.” I replied without any conviction myself.
“I love this place, India.. Indiaa” Christian continued, lost as old people often get.
“Pooch raha hai tum log itna khush kaise rehte ho, bina paise ke?” I translated to Narender as he started cooking some Rice for us.
“Aur hamare paas choice kya hai? Ye hamara Camel lenge agar hum muh fula ke baithe honge? Akele me ro lenge bhaiya ji, par sabke saamne to khush hi rahenge gao ke log” he replied with a huge smile on his face.
“8 saal se oont chala raha hun. 2 baar Visa apply kiya hai France ka. Jake wahan kaam karenge. Badhne ka kam chance hai to jab tak jo hai, khush rehte hain bhaiya. But inke saath maza bhi aata hai, bade alag alag se logo ke saath aate hain hum desert me. Hum khush, to ye khush, ye khush to thoda inaam bhi de dete hain.” he said sounding very happy, a bit too happy trying to hide his sadness may be.
“Sir, food.. less spicy. You like you like?” he said in the broken English he knew, smiling to Christian and Heinz serving them dinner and making them laugh with him.
All Amey did all this while is smile every time we looked at him. He understood neither English nor Hindi.
“This and the village trip are the best moment of my trip” said Amedeo as I translated my conversation with Narender to him.
“We pray thank you for little little, also before food” said Narender now serving us, with Moon glowing right behind his face.
The two kids-Narender and Amey fled to find some food for their camels, some thorny bushes and some desert plants. One could count all the stars, so shiny they looked. We sat there eating and enjoying the view of waves of dust stretching as far as we could see, with moon’s radiance making it even more beautiful.
The good old Germans went to sleep in their sleeping bags placed over the mattresses the Camel-men had got.
“God bless India” Christian said as he snored off. Me and Amedeo sat in the chilly wind pondering over our realizations.
The people led pitiable lives and sorted out means to some cash from their foreign visitors. And yet they found joys in the little things. The kids led a life of hard-ship and as Narender pointed out, they had fewer options. Almost all the people in Jaisalmer are somehow connected to Tourism. Still the only ones complaining were we guys. They teach us how to share, even with animals, even though you have little.
They taught us how to be happy and thank god for whatever he has given us. Not only that, he taught us that just thanking the God is not enough, you still got to work hard and be happy while doing it. He also made us realize how to deal with customers. Smile at them, make them enjoy and for that, you have got to enjoy each part of your work.
He also made me realize that even the unprivileged kids in the poorest of areas have big dreams in the pipeline. You never achieve something unless you dream of it. He dreamt of working as a travel agent in France. Maybe he will never reach there. But maybe, he will.