LOVE ACROSS THE SALT DESERT
LOVE ACROSS THE SALT DESERT
- N. DARUWALLAH
About the author : Keki Nassereanji Daruwallah, born in Lahore in the year 1937 is a poet as well as a short story writer in English language. His father N.C Daruwallah was an eminent professor in Lahore Government College. His family left Lahore in the year 1945, before the partion of India. They first came to Junagarh and from there to Rampur, now in present India. This gave him an opportunity to study in various schools and in various languages. He obtained his masters in English Literature from Government College, Ludhiana, University of Punjab. He joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1958 and was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on International Affairs. He was awarded the Sahitya Academy Award for his collection of poems, The keeper of the Dead. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest award for civilians in India.
Love Across the Salt Desert, is the title story of Daruwallah’s collection of his best-received short fiction.
SUMMARY : This is the story of a timid young man of twenty, Najab Hussain, who hazarded all odds to venture into the neighbouring country illegally across the salt desert of Rann of Kutch to smuggle home Fatimah, the girl he loved.
The story begins with a drought that had engulfed Kutch for three sequential years. Sometimes though the clouds appeared on the sky but they passed by the land without showering even a drop as if they have either forgotten the land or have conspired to ignore it for some reason known best to them. The Runn no doubt had a miserable look with cracked earth in total absence of water. Najab, the protagonist of the story lived in Khavada, a small village in the Runn of Kutch near the Indo – Pak border. It was usual for the people of his village to cross the international boundary between the two neighbouring countries to smuggle tendu leaves into Pakistan and return with cloves. These illegal trips were organized by Zaman, a veteran smuggler, who bribed the Pakistani rangers to keep them happy and thus ensure the safety of the trip.
Najab too had joined the trip with his father. At one occasion, they stayed at the house of Kaley Shah, who was a distant relative of Najab’s mother. It was here that Najab met Fatima, for the first time.
Kaley Shah’s daughter Fatima was so beautiful that she looked like a fairy. Her body always gave out fragrance of cloves and cinnamon, and her laughter had the melody of ankle-bells. Even her eyebrows were dark like the black locks of the night and her hair was the night personified. Her marriage had been fixed against her will with one Mahfuz Ali, a hopeless stammerer, who was related to her from her mother’s side. While Najab stayed at their house she fell in love with him. She smiled at him and he promised to come to her again alone.
Since his return from the trip, Najab was restless. Najab’s mother helped him. She gave him her gold bangle to accomplish his enterprise. But Najab’s father did not get the wind of his plan. Najab set out one day with his camel, Allahrakha. He stopped at Kala Doongar. It was a sacred place dedicated to Panchami Pir. According to the custom, he offered food for the jackals and beat the thali. At once several jackals appeared out of the bushes, and gobbled the food. It was considered a good omen. If the jackals had not accepted the food he would have turned back. But now he was sure of the success of the mission. He paid homage to the Pir and started on his journey. He travelled all night on the back of his fast-moving camel and by dawn he reached Sarbela, twenty miles from Kala Doongar.
He rested there for sometime. He drank water and ate his dry bread with onion. The journey through the trackless desert during the day was beset with dangers. The heat and glare of the sun was unbearable. The Pakistani rangers were watching from their towers, and no movement could escape their watchful binoculars. But the images of Fatima haunted him and he was restless to reach her. His camel was overworked and it could die on the way. But he harnessed his camel and he resumed his journey. Najab knew the track. He lay between the two posts at Jagtari and Vingoor. He crossed the international boundary at pillar number 1066. The rangers noticed him. They chased him and shot at him. But Najab drove his camel hard. Luckily a storm of dust rose between him and his hunters. The chase was given up. The camel was tired so Najab had to get down and walk along with it. He scarred his feet and had to hobble along. By evening he reached his destination. He now rested and waited.
At nightfall he reached Kaley Shah’s door and softly called Fatimah. She woke up with a start but soon recognized the voice to be of Najab’s. She let him in.
In the morning a constable came to Kaley Shah’s house and told him that there was a smuggler in his house. But Kaley Shah had no knowledge of it. His daughter Fatimah told him that there was a guest in the cowshed. Kaley Shah was surprised to see that Najab had come without any tendu leaf. Najab however told him that he had come for cloves and would pay in gold. He gave his gold bangles to Kaley Shah which his mother had given him. Kaley Shah became busy immediately making all arrangements. He sent Najab’s camel to graze a few miles away and went about buying cloves for him.
The next evening Najab eloped with Fatima on the back of Allahrakha. It had never occurred to them that they were crossing the international boundery. Even Fatima did not give a second thought while leaving her village. One hardly gets a time to think about Hindusthan and Pakistan while eloping with one’s love. No sooner did they near Khavada than the thunder started rolling. With the arrival of Najab with Fatima rain also started showering in the Runn.