It was morning, about 8 in my wrist watch. The sun rays of early midsummer had widely spread over the vast desert landscape, a land emptied by humans for miles around. Yet, in this dissolute patch of the desert, there exists life of both human and natural world harmoniously intertwining at their best. I am talking about Jaloya, a village of nearly 2,000 people, placed on the edge of Runn of Kutch, a flat salt desert on India-Pakistan border in Gujarat’s Banaskanta district.
The serenity of the place had dragged me, Kapil and Kinnari to its abode on last Saturday. It was indeed a moment of extreme experience, beautiful yet harsh, spiritual yet mundane. The first sight in the early mid morning were the local Rajput women, all draped in their colourful attires and thick gold jewellery, cantered around a village well to fetch water. The village is in a harsh land without any source of fresh water. I was told that the water comes through pipes from Deesa, a town located about 100 km away. I could imagine how difficult it would have been in the yesteryears when there was no water available through pipes or any other modern means. Women would have to walk miles to fetch just one or two gadas (water containers) of water. But what amazed me is the custom of offering water to guests first as they enter to a home. I was not excluded either though I was a stranger to them. This practise must have existed for generations, even though there was no supply of piped water in the past. As my enquiring mind struggled, I started interpreting the custom by mixing humanity with environment. As there was interplay between human values and climate, the people living here must have inculcated a practice of offering water to thirsty travellers, who carried on business across the desert.
The next sight was rightful utilization of land and other local resources. The villagers have created a shallow ditch of uneven surface and random flowing linking the well where the piped water gets filled and a dried pond. The excess water flows through the ditch is used for animals, especially buffalos, which form the lifeline of the local communities. It was indeed a great sight to see the subtle relationships between humans and their domesticated animals, which have been a case of human history from the time of Neolithic revolution. I saw buffalos resting their bodies to get relief from the heat, may be a scene of mundanely, but a reflection of simple solutions to larger problems of daily living.
Next we moved to a village temple, placed within the courtyard of a village elder. As we entered, we were greeted with chai and allowed to roam and interact freely with the family members. The house was perhaps not spectacular architecturally or materialistically, but definitely organically. There was an intense management of local resources, be it manure of domesticated goats or cattle, or the dried bushes and wood from the surrounding land that are used in the construction and maintenance of shelters meant for humans as well as animals, and for fencing to demarcate areas for various activities, and so on. It is amongst the best of sustainable living, I have experienced so far in my life.
Towards the end of our visit, we were requested to have lunch at the sarpanch’s place. It was simple bajra no rotlo and red chilli mixed curd and ghee, but was delicious. More than its taste, it was the warmth of the family that floored us completely. While chatting with the sarpanch, who is just 24 years old, I was exposed to scores of problems, the villagers are facing through. There is no proper education. In a village of about 2,000 people, the sarpanch is the only graduate. There is also misuse of funds meant for development. The villagers need more water and employment. But the grant meant for the village development is being utilized for the construction of a tourist home. I wonder how it would help the community.
Despite these problems, there are smiles worth millions of rupees in everyone’s face. We left the village for Ahmedabad carrying intense love and warmth from the community, which I will cherish forever.