Friday, March 13, 2009


Banni is an area in Gujarat near the Tropic of Cancer. Once I had to visit that semi desert as a part of my project. People had exaggerated a lot about the place for sending me to the same. Despite me putting forward my difficulties to go to the field as a female, my institute succeeded in sending me to that desert.
We started around 7 AM to Banni. I had taken one ice box with some packets of juice and mineral water, along with the lunchbox from the officer’s mess. Being the only female, I enjoyed the consideration to be seated in the front seat. It was an Armada and even the front seat was not as comfortable as a car.
The main road ended after half an hour. There is no road to be seen..the only plant to be seen is a variety of shrub called Prosopis Juliflora. How to proceed further? We could see some wheel marks made by the charcoal-carriers..Banni-ites in turbans commute in a strange vehicle, which looked like as if a box with 2 wheels fixed behind a motor cycle. People sit in that box as the rider takes the vehicle! It was nice seeing a family going in that vehicle from one village to another.

Men came on camels and horses..In some villages we could see donkeys also.
We had a list of Banni villages to be visited and a very small map.Our driver enquired the correct route to some villagers and started journey. After sometime, we reached one village.
One ‘kaaka’ in turban told me” namasthey bahan” and showed us an old ‘so-called’ canal with no water. After taking the GPS reading and the other primary information, we resumed our journey.
Banni villages smell buffaloes! The villagers live by their livestock. They had cows and buffaloes worth lakhs!
We went to the Sraavan temple in the outskirts of Banni. Sraavan was killed while collecting water for his parents, by the king DasarathHa, in Ramayana! There was a well in front of the temple, the water from which cures all skin diseases provided the person leaves his/her cloth there itself after the bath..! It is believed that all the mango trees there were converted to mangroves by the curse of Sraavan’s parents!:)
We reached a school. No kid was inside. All were playing in the midst of buffaloes, in that hot sun! One can not call it a playground as the entire desert itself looked like a playground!We could not find a teacher there… Each of us looked like an alien to them and vice versa. We waited there as the eldest of the kids brought the village head with him. The head arrived in blue paijama-kurta and took us to the water storage.
Banni villages have a water filtration mechanism for centuries! They call the well-like storage ‘Virda’. According to them, ‘Khichdi’(a north Indian dish made from ‘daal’ and ‘chaawal’)is the tastiest when made from that water!!
Scorching sun started disturbing me through my umbrella. I came to the shade of Prosopis and found a smiling tribal girl Meera. She must be around 20 years. She was wearing the traditional Banni gown and her head was covered with a cloth. She could understand little bit of Hindi and that was a relief for me.She posed for photograph with me, happily.

The innocent villagers pose for photographs even from the end of visibility, without knowing we are taking the photograph of something else..I could see three girls posing for camera from the other end of the pond and a lady on horse cart asking her husband to stop the horse so that she can come clear in my snaps!
The village head invited us to his bhunga(Banni hut) for having a cup of tea. I didn’t want the tea but really wanted to see their house and the inmates. We reached the tribal house with dung floor. I admire their hospitality. One man bought two coats for us to sit. They were made of wood and plastic twains.The village head disappeared for a glance and appeared with a buffalo in the yard. After giving it some cattle feed(which again looked like dung), he started milking it. Within seconds he handed the milk over to the lady of the house who made tea out of it.

I escaped from that teato talk to the tribal girl Meera. She has never gone to a school it seems! I felt very sad about our India’s younger generation..Miles to go..!
We started from there to the next village. It was too horrible a journey for me and the desert seemed to be never –ending..We could see mirage everywhere! I started cursing the institute for sending me to this desert! If something happens to the vehicle here, when can I reach my home..I felt kind of vomiting sensation and stomach ache due to the shaking vehicle in that desert! We could see some lizards running panically here and there to escape frm our vehicle…except we 4, that was the only sign of life in that desert!! At last after one hour’s tiresome journey, we could find a tree at a distance. The driver managed to reach near to that. It was an Akasia with lot of thorns resembling toothpicks. We halted for around 40 minutes there to have our lunch.
I opened my lunchbox…to my disappointment, I could find only a little food remaining as the rest were gone out in the shaking journey. I was at the lowest of my energy levels and the hunger also strted disturbing me. I pleaded to my colleagues to go back soon! But the shortest route to our city was only after 3 villages!!
We resumed the journey and I kept on having the water to keep hunger away..I thought of the previous day’s rice kept in our fridge , to give to the maid..It brought an ocean in my tastebuds!!
I called my mom and husband to share my disappointment…but they could not understand my plight fully.
Suddenly, the vehicle started moving like an old govt transport bus. Yes! One of its tyres stopped functioning!! We all had to get down and stand in that hot sun for around more than half an hour…my umbrella was helpless…I felt this day will free me from all my sins across my births!!That moment, I wanted to see my home in Kerala and longed to have a glass of crystal clear water….
At last the driver managed to take the vehicle..We all looked like refugees post earthquake! The dust and the non stopping wind there can do nothing else..
I was not able to get down when we reached the last village. I watched the village sitting on a chair given by the villagers. Kids are full of dust..not at all taken care..I thought of the kids in our families smelling baby powder and soap..what a difference!
My colleagues collected data and we strted towards our city. At last we could see the main road from a distance! One cry of joy came from my stomach…yes we are approaching our city..!! For the first time here, each street of the city seemed to be heaven to me!!
I rushed to my home as soon as the vehicle stopped in front of it, after 6 PM! Was not daring to look at the mirror before a bath…
Yes, Banni was a nightmare which I can never forget in my life! But still it was also an experience to be counted on!