Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022
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A Name For A Thirsty Land

Of Ismael, his village and water that is a desert away

Ismael has naughtiness written across his face. His eyes have that glint and his smile merely serves to enhance his mischievous appearance. It is purely coincidental that Ismael belongs to a clan of Muslims in the desert who, in sticking to their rules, have always been known as anarchic. Not for them the societal dictates on politics and the petitioning that goes with the way life functions in India. The desert, in that sense, is no different from the rest of the country. In one corner of the Indian desert lives Ismael. Actually, he lives pretty much in the middle of the desert but as far as the Indian part is concerned, he is in a corner. His village is on the edge of Jaisalmer district, touching the border with Pakistan near Nachna. On maps, Nachna appears large but actually it is merely a village, dusty as dusty can be. Albeit made bigger by the arrival of the government to bring water.

Ismael first came to me regarding a matter of great prestige—a battle going on between his clan and the established Muslim leadership of Jaisalmer district. That this leadership comprise the senior officer-bearers of the district Congress committee is not a coincidence, and neither was the fact that Ismael approached me, "rather than rub my nose before them". The clash was over the naming of a soon-to-be-recognised revenue village. While the leaders sitting in Jaisalmer wanted to have it registered under a different name, the locals were adamant that it be called after a well-known person from Ismael's clan. In this, all communities, castes and every labelled grouping possible were united. And it was a matter of such importance that the old man, under whose name the area to be designated a revenue village was already known as, had refused to eat. So much so that he had in fact left his home and was living at his daughter-in-law's. The old man was very upset and took it as an affront to his standing in the area.

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