If you have visited Jaisalmer you must have been to those cultural evenings at the camps in the Thar desert. The main attraction of those evenings is the traditional Rajasthani dance and the folk music performances by the local artists. These performances take place only inside the camping premises and they’re mostly for the tourists who are staying in those camps. There’s another category of freelance performers who don’t perform in the camps exclusively but they roam around in the desert and tourists hire them at a certain price to perform for them. Both the parties agree to meet at a spot of their convenience in the evening and the artists perform traditional dance and music for a few hours. Those artists are from the villages in the desert and they have been into this profession for many generations.
When I was in Jaisalmer in October 2019, I had decided to spend one night in the open in the desert so I booked a spot for myself in a remote place where I would be joined by two French men also. So the man escorted me on a camel for a few kilometers and when we were just one kilometer away from the spot I asked him to let me get down as I wanted to walk through the dunes and enjoy the evening weather and sunset. There were many sand dunes one after another but not many people, just three people sitting on top of one and two were clicking pictures on another. I was walking towards the highest dune where I wanted to sit alone for a while to see the sunset and when I reached close to it I saw a human figure standing at the top of the dune facing the sun. As I inched closer I saw it was a girl in traditional Rajasthani dress standing there and the view of she looking at the sunset was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist clicking a picture. (Later when I told her about the picture, she would make some poses herself and let me click a few more pictures of her).
I reached the top and sat down, she said, “Hello ! “ I returned her greetings and we started a small conversation like introducing each other and she told me that she’s a dancer and had been waiting for the group of tourists that had booked an evening with her. Her father or maybe father-in-law was sitting with the musical instruments a few dunes away.
“Do you drink?” She asked me.
“Yes I do.” I replied.
“Me too. Do you have water?” She asked me showing a quarter of vodka she had in her pocket. And asked me if I had water.
I had given my bag to the camel man so I had no water. I said , “I am really sorry I don’t have.” And explained why I didn’t have.
She said in a little helpless way, “Today I forgot to take water in hurry, otherwise I carry water whenever I have to drink.”
“And when do you have to drink?” I asked.
“Whenever I have to perform.” She replied looking at the far distant sun going down behind the dunes.
I asked her, “Why do you have to drink to perform?”
“Thoda aasan ho jata hai saab aur ache se nach leti hu (It becomes a little easy and it helps me dance better sir).” She replied in a very relaxed manner.
It made me feel sad and curious at the same time and I wanted to know more about her so I started asking. She told everything so simply and honestly and I could feel an unexpressed pain in her responses.
She is Seeta, a dancer who was married at the age of just 12, hardly 25 now a mother of three children waiting for the customers who booked to see her perform in the evening for them.
“When did you start drinking?”, I asked.
“Right after marriage when I was hardly 13-14.” She said.
“When did you have your first child?”
“I was 14 or maybe 15.”
Listening to her took me into a completely different world that exists not far from us. When I asked if she ever went to school,
She said, “Beeran jungle me janme aur bade hue saab, school kya hota hai hume nahi maloom, “ (Born and grew up in wilderness sir, I don’t know what a school is).
“Where did you learn dancing ?” I asked.
“In our world it’s all decided the moment we’re born, it’s our ancestral profession and we’re taught to perform at a very young age by the family members, a girl is prepared to dance and boys to sing and play the instruments.” She said.
She then asked me to dial a number, it was of her father/in-law, she wanted to check if the customers had shown up at his end or not, she talked in her own language, thanked me and started to leave saying “aap ache aadmi ho saab, aapse baat karke acha laga”, (you’re a good man sir, it was nice talking to you).
She walked away on the sand and disappeared in the desert like the sun that had vanished behind dunes…!