Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022
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Frontier Hallucinations

The implication of an innocent man had Jaisalmer protesting as never before—the town even called a bandh for the first time in its history.

Devikot is at the other end of Jaisalmer district from Nachna, the southern edge. But for the national highway that dissects the village, Devikot would have remained an obscure corner of the desert. Until the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Devikot was one of the many transit points along the highway for the heroin that came in from Afghanistan. On account of the highway what it has become is, in the American language, a one-horse town. Except that it is still not really a town, but a dusty village with a frontier feel to it. And frontier it once was; between Jaisalmer state and Mallani, now Barmer district. It was through Devikot that my ancestors raided lucrative, and brave (or foolish?), caravans that undertook the desert trade route to Sindh, Baluchistan and Persia. A crumbling fort is evidence of that lawless period. Little after Devikot, the road drops down into Barmer, leaving behind the rocky expanse of Jaisalmer, and opening into the sandy vastness ahead. It was on this road, in Devikot, that Jaisalmer police mounted an operation which proved to be a great learning experience for me.

Paras Mal looks as dusty as Devikot, and as small in size as is his village. He runs a roadside stall, like the many that come up around highways, and he is also a commission agent for the state roadways. Paras confines himself to his business, but with a periodical political interest that was incited by elections. He did get beaten up in 1993—during the state assembly elections—by the local Congress election agent. His life story makes him an unlikely villain for the operation that Jaisalmer police mounted, and his selection still perplexes me.

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