By Ovee Thorat
In all of Banni I can trust this guy completely. He was introduced to me by a researcher friend of mine who received a lot of help from him in time of need, help which was provided without expecting anything in return. She needed to take soil cores deep inside the hardened crust of the lakes in the rann of Kachchh. Nobody can dig a hole in the ground as he can. His long sinewy limbs enable him to effortlessly dig out soil from the hole in the ground. He usually doesn’t drink water until the task at hand is finished, something which I tried to acquire unknowingly. Water makes a good reward in the drylands.
His existence was a bit of a mystery in the beginning. My friend was away, and we needed his help, my friend knew his name and the area where he lived, we decided to go meet. We searched for him, but nobody in the nearby villages had heard his name, he was a nobody. The friend didn’t have his photo to show it to me, I couldn’t even imagine this guy. She described, “He has a big smile- a gummy smile, and he is very tall”. When we finally found him that day, those were the first two things I noticed too, and his shy and unprejudiced eyes.
The second time, I visited him with another researcher friend who might have needed his help to do some wildlife surveys in the region. Going back to his village felt like visiting a relative. Somehow, the appreciation of my old friend who had introduced me to him first was transferred into me. He invited us to his house. I could see that he was happy too, to meet. Being a woman, I could enter his house without any barriers, whereas my male friend had to wait outside to talk to him. As I sat in a corner of his makeshift kitchen, walls of which were a few logs of the thorny Prosopis juliflora, he offered me a glassful of milk; fresh from the buffalo he lovingly called Appu- a name I had heard usually in reference to pet elephants. Appu was the lead buffalo, with the biggest bell hanging on her neck and with a whitish patch in between her tightly curled horns. Her milk was warm and sweet and foamy. The lactose intolerant me finished more than half of it in one go. In the remaining, he poured hot tea. It was one of the best teas I have ever had. We had to go to the next village for work that day, but we were without a mode of transport. I was hoping to ask for a drop by a motorcycle from someone in his village. We learned that nobody in the village owned a motorcycle. We decided to walk. The distance was more than eight kilometers, through the scorching rann. He wouldn’t let us walk. He decided to help us. His old mare was swiftly tacked-up to a small wooden cart. He took us as far as she could pull. He did not accept money.
In the next visit, I was given the same frothy glass of milk as if it was a long-time tradition. This time too, it was the first milk from his best buffalo. I noticed something new in his house this time, huge cooking pots in a corner. He had gotten married just two days ago. His mom introduced me to his wife. She looked beautiful in bright red overalls and all the silver jewelry. I noticed he had henna on his hands. Bright red.
That day, I was seated on the khatla in his house. Sparrows had made many nests in the room. The room felt full of life, warmth, and yet very relaxing. I looked out of the door and saw him tending to the buffaloes. The old mare was tied to a big acacia tree. She seemed to be resting her tired feet. There was a goat and a sheep in one corner. I realized, I liked being here. His was a simple life, surrounded by family and all these animals. It was always coloured with golden light and moved slower than the world I was more accustomed to. I liked being a part of it. I offered him some money, as a wedding gift, to get something for the new bride. He accepted it.
It was afternoon teatime. I saw his wife making tea. I like watching people while they are cooking, makes me feel homely and relaxed. She was very quick with getting the wood on fire. Water was heated in a small pot, tea-dust from an old tin was poured into it, and a handful of sugar; fresh milk was the last ingredient which made it a perfect comfort-drink. While leaving his home that afternoon, he took out a bottle full of thick golden honey, and gave it to me without saying anything, with only a gummy smile. It made many lonely dinners sweet, back at the field station.
About the Author
Ovee is a PhD student at ATREE. Her research uses a Political Ecology approach to understand the drivers and consequences of grassland conservation and development programmes in Banni grasslands in Kachchh district of Gujarat. She occasionally tries her hand at sketching and poetry, some of which are shared on her blog https://oveenotes.wordpress.com/