The desert is absolute silence, building in your ears like static. When the wind picks up, it howls, a personal song. The village we go to is meant to be a large one, with concrete houses. We wander around one such house, guilty at the intrusion. What must they think of us? Each room seems purposeless: spaces that I would think of as separate, here mingle (bedroom, living room, dinning room; kitchen, storage space, garage). Furniture has no pride of place. Objects are—you find your way around them. The girl who follows us, Meena, shows me pictures of her brothers and point to the various objects of mine that she wants. Your earrings? No? Okay. Your scarf? No? Okay. Your sweater? No? Okay. She speaks Rajasthani, I Hindi. We talk at each other, pulling out stems of common terms and latching onto meaning. I tell her she is beautiful. She says ‘No’, in English, and touches Charley’s hair. She says something that sounds similar to ‘gold’ in Hindi, but when I repeat it, she looks blank.
Her mother keeps her duputta lowered around me. When she learns I am from Bombay, she raises it. How old?, she asks, and I say, 20. Easier to say in Hindi than 23. She widens her eyes and smiles. Married?, she asks. When I finally understand what she means (‘shaadi’ in Rajasthani is rounder, more accented), I say no. She is both delighted and horrified. When will you marry? she says and I say, ten years. At 30. Now she is clapping with delight, holding my hands in hers. We laugh together. Give me your number, she says. When I find you a groom, I’ll call. She disappears into the house and brings out a mobile that I don’t know how to operate. All its instructions are in Rajasthani. The keypad, however, is in English. I type my number out. I’ll call, she promises.
Ram pyaariji, God’s Beloved, waits by the side. He is my camel. He looks bored of my inadequacy (I keep slipping to the right). His rhythmic movements are lulling, the bell on his neck a song. There is nothing for miles around except disgruntled bushes, birds and endless sand. Yet each house in the village is small compared to the space that could be theirs. As an urban dweller, I wonder why they don’t claim more—but then we move on, land stretching for miles around us, and I see how pointless it would be to hoard a jewel when you own the mine.