Thar-struck

TharStruck was the first travel essay I wrote ever in my young adult life. I wrote it to be a submission for an international travel writing competition whose prize was an apprenticeship in the Balkans. I didn’t expect to win the prize, but I definitely wanted to send in my best. I wanted to create an engaging read and a fun write-up. And I was really proud of what I had created. 

It was well articulated for a beginner piece, but I was told it needed work. Where writers are hard on themselves, I was basking in my self-proclaimed glory. I was so blind by my love for the article; I refused to see the flaws and mistakes in it. Rather, I didn’t see a mistake to be one. It was supposedly how I intentionally structured the sentence(s).
When I look back at it after studying writing for two-and-a-half years, I now see the inconsistencies, the gaps and the leaps, the unstructured composition, the untrained use of punctuations, and the violations of rules which I didn’t know then. It was like entering a home-architecture competition with a cave as my submission; it is still a house, but it needs furnishing, plumbing, masonry, and electrical to be taken seriously as a home. Same was with TharStruck. Imagine a puddle of water resting on the floor and an ounce of water held in a glass. The first is free to be itself without containment, but it is of little use; the latter is only free to be itself within the limits of the glass, but is useful. 

Professional/Creative writing needs to be useful. Conformity made me see the beauty in utility, the importance of a mutually agreed structure, organisation, having a predetermined aim and use.

The free-er form of this is called art. Art has a price, but it doesn’t have a commercial purpose, it doesn’t have stakeholders and an output to deliver. Art has artists and admirers.

Despite having flaws, TharStruck is still one of my favourite essays I’ve written because its freedom of expression was not bound by the norms of conformity, and more so because it was an article trying to describe a fulfilling moment I had lived.

Despite my feelings about Tharstruck, it undoubtedly is an example of amateur writing. To acknowledge that one of my most loved works is flawed brings a bittersweet pain, and to share it in public, as I did back then, feels like the only way to overcome it. 

I’m sure you will notice and learn from my mistakes, but don’t let it get in your way of enjoying the essay.

Do share your thoughts in the comments. 

 

Oh where do we start from?.. about that day.., does only that eventful day holds significance or the many preceding nights that led top it matter too. Should the evening be traced back to the idle, easy, Chemburian afternoon where this optimistic fool is bewitched by the idea, among others, of spending a night in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. I have come to believe that for any moment, the journey to it is how you pay the fee. 

So the plan was drafted – To camp a night at the Thar desert! That’s it, that was the plan without a second line to it.(10 on 10 for planning!)  

Alright, the adventure was to begin soon. But deception starts now! The deception was not for me, I was more than convinced about the travel, it was for the caring loved ones who would advise and struggle against my ambition(if they were truthfully told about it). 


It was 6 hours into the train ride to Bhuj, my first stop, when i received a call from my mother saying that she knows. Knows that i wasn’t accompanied by my friends as i had made her believe and that her only child has left home alone to vagabond across states. All this had to be deciphered between all the motherly worrying and crying. Her wailings could have outlasted the fourteen hour ride but her son convinced her to pull the chain on her worry train, assuring that he would stay in touch daily and stay safe. He then looks at his forefinger, at the deep, band-aided cut suffered on account of trying to wield a pocket knife and feeling the consequential tetanus shot in his butt he doubts his promise. 

 

He is a person of stumbling grace, wobbly elegance and brute carelessness. His friends, to whom he disclosed his intension of a month long solo trip, laughed with genuine concern as they had known his history of unaccountable falls, innumerable ankle twists immeasurable injuries, fortunately just few fractures and couple of surgeries and scars and bruises as regular as tides. 


 Yes, i’m quite prone to injury and i gave my skin regeneration a run for its money! .. so this endeavor was out of my bubble of safety. I went to sharpen the blade of a pocket knife gifted by a friend and got myself cut in the simple act of checking its sharpness – sharp indeed! The nearby people stuffed some calcium carbonate paste into the wound and sent the wounded knight off. This was on the eve of departure. The next morning, the D-day, i was having doubts about myself as i wasn’t handling myself in already known surroundings and oncoming unknown surroundings could be fatal. But i wasn’t going to abort and as i was waiting at the doctor’s to get a tetanus shot, his wall displayed a poem which spoke of just doing it!- that it was okay to falter, to stumble and to fall but it is important to give myself another chance, to believe in myself and keep moving. And with that i tightened my nerves and lowered my pants! 

 

Its funny how travel pushes people, an introvert by nature, always found it hard to socialize, to make quick connections, to talk to people unless required and now he was stepping out this pattern. But despite of being a bit people shy, he had faith in their kindness, Mumbai inculcates helpfulness among its inhabitants and now it was time to taste foreign waters. Few days later he finds himself humbled by the hospitality of Hemant a Jaisalmeri fellow whom he met via Couchsurfing. He ran his family hotels along with his uncle. Real friendly guy, made some reed sauce pasta for him at one o’clock in the night, letting him dine on an open air dinning balcony of his hotel. Needless to say – free room!   

 

We talked at lengths the next morning, he couldn’t come with me in the city as he had the hotel but he suggested local places to visit. He saw my itinerary and the next up thing, the desert camping excited him, he was very fond of the desert. He suggested to rent out a bike and ride up to the desert as there were no public transport going there. So the next day i loaded up some parathas for the night stay, rented a bike, pumped 

some fuel and smoke and was off on the desert course. It was a 45km ride into nowhere. The sun was shining but it wasn’t hot. The region was arid and the air was dry. The scenery along the way was barren and beautiful. Also a small detour take you to a once village, now ruins of Kuldhara. 

The scorched road takes you to the banks of the desert where there are camel and jeep safari operators who take you into the desert for a ride and leave you back at the road after and a few hours. I stopped by the guy i was looking for. I had run into a guy at a snack hut along the way there who asked me to come see him or a desert ride. I told him about my transport requirements and hit me with a staggering amount of fee. No way i could have paid that much.., negotiations took flight. After an hour, i was offering all the money i was carrying at that moment which was five times lesser than what he had quoted. The situation looked bleak for me, but Alif bhai was a man of patience. Between the bargaining, along with prices we exchanged thoughts, ideas, philosophies and smoke. He admired my stupidity of braving such feats with so little. I got a feeling he was of the same breed but he was not ready for the deal.  The sun would set in a while and had to go through the same dance routine with some other camel man so I took a parting to him. Looking at the line of camelmen eager to get the most out of you, I started moving along the road. As I went a few rotations ahead, he called me back and we had a deal! What a tease. A drop off now and a pick up the next morning was the deal and a call to his friend there asking to help me out was his friendly gesture which was worth more than any commercial exchange. May be we both shared a belief that money is not the currency of the realm but friendship is.

       

Aboard the camel ship, off he goes on a desert cruise. A humpy ride it was. After crossing two deserts without a clue on how to distinguish them apart, there came the Thar. The courteous camel dropped him at a small snack hut where Alif bhai’s friend was greeted him along with the hut owner. Almost all the people he had seen and meet that day had a triangular face with peculiar facial features that resembles rodents but this hut owner could have been a model mouse, a good looking fellow he was. They chatted a while watching the slipping sun. It was getting dark soon and they had to leave for their homes in a nearby settlement so they suggested him to set up the tent while they still had light. 


As I finished pitching the tent, I realized that my phone was missing. After kicking my brain a while it dawned on me that I had absently placed the phone on a cot next to the hut and had left it lying there like unguarded cheese and now was nowhere to be seen. The duo laughed and consoled the unfortunate feat and suspected the flirty folk dancing women to have absconded with the phone as they were known to be thrifty and also had been caught a few times, sadly this wasn’t one of those times. 

Now in the age of cell phones, I didn’t feel the need to memorize or even note aside at least a few essential numbers, not even my mother’s! Fortunately I remembered one number, a friend whose number I hadn’t saved just out of.. laziness may be.. who knew this would be helpful one day. Bless procrastination! I called him using the hut man’s phone and asked him to convey the situation to my mother. The duo, wishing me goodnight, left.

 

Watching them leave, he got busy getting comfortable, sought out some blankets from a trunk in the tea hut and spread it across the tent floor. All cozy and comfy, with adequate supplies, it was now him and …him. A while late he stepped out, strolling barefoot across the cold sand absorbing the dark night ahead. 

Between the dunes of Thar he had lost his seven year old friend, a sad parting to an endearing company. It had begun like most of his early social encounters, they weren’t very fond of each other at the star, but with time had grown to like each other. Through music they bonded, Nokia-XpressMusic- true to its name. With his one around he didn’t need to look for another one and neither did he want to. Year after year, song after song they grew tighter and rarely did they tire. With transcending music, funny texts, creepy album art, indulging images and shaky conversations they had grown comfortable. Even in the android age they stuck together against whatsapp and what not! Seven year between his grip and the ground is a lot of wear but it was a hardass, took it all and never complained. Farewell.  


Pawing on my twos across the sands, I see a local wanderer coming to me on his fours in a creamy fur was a Labrador cross with gothic eyes. I offered him the all time dogman interaction catalyst – Parle G, he was pleased and hung around to keep me company for a while. I hoped he’d stay he night but Labroth preferred a camp with more to offer so he headed east. I would have been adrift in the sandy ocean if it weren’t for the kind and generous desert people and animals, they with layers of blankets also provided a layer of security, under which I took to bed. 

 

Tearing through the hums of sand carving winds he hears a wild roar of a jeep raging towards him. A revision of Doppler Effect breaks his sleep. He had heard about Rajasthani dacoits, but to encounter them here, in middle of nowhere..? Could this be a place where they come to enjoy their spoils? Inherent paranoia was roaring with the jeep. He could see the headlights running around.. what to do?.. he didn’t have any valuables to offer .. would they let him be or is this going to be his silicon grave. No option but to brave it out. He steps outside, sees a jeep frolicking through the shifting terrain and it’s a freaking tourist safari! A bunch of couples woohooing around. They left as furiously as they had come. Some dacoits! Logic indeed is panic’s prey. 

Shivering in the night’s cold he gets back to his cozy ensemble. Some time passed, in his irregular slumber he again hears something coming to him, this time they were whispers.. few from men, some from camels. He ventures out again.. three men on four camels. The camels were looked sly and the men had a touch of thug to them. Inquiries followed greetings. They let him know that they had just bought this new camel few hours back and they wish for him to ride it. He told them that he didn’t have and passed he offer. But they insisted on him getting on for good luck. Something about this flamed his unsettled paranoia and again flashed the silica grave before his eyes. Cautiously and politely he declined but they grew adamant. The more he resisted the more aggressive they became to raise his suspicion. This went on for a while. After a rumble of outrageous reasons for getting on and equally demented counters for not getting on the night party concede and the camel folks went away. 

 

Whoa! What a night! I just stood there for a moment, took a look around, the sand was cold, the wind was soothing. I stood there for a while longer marveling at the beauty that Thar is. The sky hosting a stellar gathering, a heavenly moon overlooking my stay, I think to myself, in presence of such pristine environment how could I let myself be occupied with fear of the very surroundings I came seeking. Since I had left home I had met nothing but kindness. The world had opened itself to me and I was shy to reciprocate. No longer. 

I now look at the moon and the sky above us and think how it is one for all of us. Me, my mother, my friends, the amusing populace of Rajasthan, all of us gazing at the same moon – here we find connectivity in broader celestial network. Something about these celestial entities that brings awe and wonder, inspires us to reach up and reach out to whatever that bewilders us, teach us to embrace whatever we may come across, to ride he spiral and to be what we’ve never been.   At dawn, I awoke, this time it was nature calling me behind nearby shrubs. Coming back from the conference I saw a shrouded figure near the intent, by now I had grown accustomed to such visits. Raj bhai! The figure called, it was the hut man, he told me that my mother had called him and she’d been informed about the situation and was assured that I was safe. With shivering hands I thanked him. He then lit up a fire. As I heated myself, above the dune borders the sun rose with warmth and hope and a promise of more adventures ahead!

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