It was 9 AM or so when I came back to my “camp” from the white rann in dhordo. My “camp” (singe man tent) was setup near the BSF camp just near the entrance to the salt desert. There was a cool breeze passing through the flat lands and the heat was bearable. I got my kindle and ipod out of my tent and settled down just outside my tent to read some books while listening to music. But that was not to be as a gujrat police’s border patrol causally strolled towards me and I knew he wanted to have a chat. So, i put my stuff away and smiled at him. As he came nearer, I saw he was carrying an AK 47 rifle and he had a big mustache. I was somewhat uncomfortable.
After the usual introductions and endless of questions about where i am from etc; he told me about himself. I’ll not divulge his name but he was born as a rajput in pakistan. During the 1971 war, he, along with his family crossed the border into india and sought refuge in India. Eventually he landed a job with the border police force.
He asked me if i was a bramhin and when i nodded yes, he looked satisfied and asked me if I was married. Foolishly, I told him I was not and i further told him, rather arrogantly, that i don’t plan to get married. He was silent for a few minutes and when he looked at me again, there was sadness in his eyes. I realized I had said something massively offensive.
He told me that his first wife had been left behind in pakistan when he had migrated to india. He applied for a visa to pakistan and got her back to india as well and then they had tried to have a kid. But, it had ended in disaster as both the baby and the mother died during birth. Undeterred, he married again and had 3 male kids who were now well off and had families of their own.
Then, he looked at me in the eye and said “Tum mujhe apni baat do ki tum peeche ghar jaake shadi karoge. Apne paapa aur maa ko itna dukh mat do. Tum iss rann mein chaahe jitni bhi door kyun na jao, agar tumhare mata pita ko khush nahi rakha hai to tumhe kabhi sukh nahi milega.
Iss umr mein shaadi karne ke bajaaye, bhagat singh banke yahaan akele tambu khada karke baitha hua hai. Mat bano aise”
(Promise me that, once you go back home, you’ll get married. Don’t trouble your parents too much. No matter how far you go into the rann, if you have not made your parents happy, then you’ll not be happy. At this age, instead of getting married, you are being rebellious and sitting here alone in a tent. Don’t continue this)
He said these words with utmost sincerity and earnestness in his eyes. I had no words but kept looking at him silently nodding my head.
After he left, I went and took a cold water bath in the bathrooms that were assigned to the BSF guys (i had asked their permission of course).
I spent the entire day lounging around the Rann Utsav and i really stood out because of my dirt-bag appearance and the well to do tourists kept edging away from me and kept throwing dirty looks at me. Not really caring, i just ate as much food as i could get my hands on.
In the evening, from sunset till closing time, I had a gala time at the salt desert watching the sunset. The white rann was bathed in gold and then red during sunset and after dark, it acquired a ghostly white hue owing to the near-full moon.
I came back to the tent and packed stuff up in expectation of leaving the next day and slept after having arranged everything in order.
Morning came and I got up and finished packing my tent and was ready to take off when the police guy came sauntering towards me again. This time, he looked a little serious and I was a little alarmed.
He looked at me seriously and said, “Tumne mujhe apni baat di hai ki tum wapas ghar jaake shaadi karoge. Yaad rakhna. Aap mere sabse chote bete ke umr ke barabar ho, isliye buzurk ho kar bol raha hoon, itna zid mat karo aur pehele apni behen ki shaadi karwa do aur phir tum bhi shaadi kar lo. Agar budhaape mein tumhare saath koi nahi rahega to tumhe bahut dukh lagega. Jawani ki garam khoon mein aisi phaisla mat lo.”
(You have promised me that you’ll go back home and get married. Your age is that of my youngest son and so, i am advising you as an elder, don’t be so stubborn. Get your sister married first and then you too get married. If you are left alone in your old age, you’ll be very unhappy. Don’t take rash decisions in the rush of your youth)
He then extended his had towards me while looking into my eyes earnestly. Unable to say anything, I just nodded my head and he smiled.
Before i left, he posed for pictures with my cycle holding his AK-47 rifle and then accompanied me all the way till the outside gate of the Rann Utsav. There were a few more people from his unit near the gate and he asked them all to join us at the tea stall near the gate. He ordered tea for me in the stall and also ordered for some confectioneries and asked me to eat them all.
When i offered to pay, he refused flat out and shook my had again and as I got up on my cycle to leave, he said, “Jo akela jaata hai, bhagvaan usske saath jata hai. Bas khush-hal ghar pahunch jaana” and waved goodbye.
(God goes with those who go alone)
He was a hardened soldier who had spent a lot of time at the borders in harsh conditions. He was six feet tall and had a scary mustache and carried an AK-47 rifle in his hand all the time. And yet, he was the softest, kindest and the most empathetic man I have ever met.
As i started pedaling, I had tears in my eyes knowing that i made a false promise to an honest man knowing fully well that, it was a promise I would not keep.