With the onset of summer, there was a general change in the character of this place. I particularly looked forward to the immigration of banjaras into the state. Banjara camps cropped up at various places in proximity to rivers and streams, and they endowed color and activity to the dry terrain.
These camps were an attractive sight. There were tents crafted from bright colored fabric, held in place by means of wooden poles. Cloth bundles were stacked into one corner; metal pots and pans were stacked into yet another corner. Fishing nets and round basket boats stood in proud display. There were also cows draped in bright colored shawls and adorned with flower garlands.
These camps woke up to an early morning. Men, women and children could be seen on their way to morning ablutions. They bathed in the river, choosing concealed spots- beneath a bridge, or portions of the river hidden by the density of the vegetation.
Little did they realize that these were the most luxurious baths on this planet; no shower cubicle or bathtub could match the joy of this experience!
One evening, as I drove past their camp, I decided to take some pictures of the camp. As I switched off the engine of my car, a banjara girl, about 12 years of age, walked up to me, and asked me if I would offer her a ride in my car. When I hesitated, she reframed her question and asked me if I would at least drive her to a pole that stood a few feet away. I scanned her face- she had the innocence and eagerness of a child, and I was tempted to offer her a ride. However, I was inhibited by the tales I had heard of banjaras, and I feared the potential danger of being duped or tricked. So I decided against it and refused, stating that I was in a hurry to return. The girl didn’t persist with her plea; instead she asked me if I had coins to lend. I didn’t, so I shook my head. As an afterthought, I promised to return the next day with coins. She smiled.
Next morning, I happened to pass by their camp, and I caught sight of the girl. She was in a basket boat in the stream, rowing merrily. There were two other children with her, each about 5 years of age.
The stream echoed with the laughter of the trio. It was obvious that they were lost to a world of their own.
That evening, I stopped at their camp. The girl walked up to me in silent anticipation. I asked her where she came from. She told me that they belonged to Maharashtra. Every summer, they migrated to Kerala, where water was never a scarcity. They camped by the river and thrived on fishing. They had been coming for years now, and she had picked the native tongue. With the rains, they moved back to Maharashtra.
I glanced at their camp- crows were feeding on bits of fish that littered the ground. I spotted the basket boats, and I asked her if she would offer me a ride in the boat. She beamed as she answered in the affirmative.
I thrust some coins into her hand and walked back to my car, guilty and envious. The girl was perplexed.
To me, it was clear that the joys of nomadic life could never be traded. Even if I offered her all the materialistic comforts of my world, it wouldn’t give her a moment’s joy of her nomadic life, and the freedom that came with it.