Swarms of people greet me as I alight at the Jaipur railway station, some arriving in the pink city with royal expectations, some transiting through it to seek the desert culture of Rajasthan, and many slyly trying to identify first-timers to the city so they can put their touting hat on.
I incessantly nod no to the constant soliciting of Madam auto, Madam taxi and Madam hotel, until I reach the exit of the station and someone’s Madam auto soliciting succeeds.
I can see his bewilderment when I ask to go to Surya Vatika Road on the highway towards Chomu, and the fare negotiation is skewed in my favour for once, because he has no idea where we are going.
We drive past the bustling city, past the resorts that line its outskirts, and turn off the main highway into a by-lane that winds along vast patches of dry land, barren even at the onset of spring.
We occasionally see signs of the organic farm I’m heading to, and a few wrong turns & some help from a cyclist later, arrive at my destination. As the auto whizzes off, I am greeted by the sweet smell of the earth, the kind that mixes with our soil and makes us nostalgic about the India we grew up in.
Maliram-ji, my host at the farm, greets me with a broad smile and a nod, and ushers me in. In the distance, Maliram-ji’s wife, clad in a bright red lehenga-choli, is effortlessly lighting a chulha. The birds are chirping, as though in my welcome, the trees are in partial bloom, rows of vegetables show signs of the end of winter, and the resident cows, goats & dogs are lounging in the sun.
This green relief from the barren landscapes we’ve just driven along is one man’s dream to build an oasis in the middle of the desert, and prove that environmentally conscious measures can make a difference to the ecology of a place.
Maliram-ji shows me to my little hut, whose mud walls and thatched roofs ensure that I won’t need any artificial forms of heating that night. I immediately fall in love with its cosy Rajasthani décor and the fibre roofing of my bathroom, which creates the effect of open air bathing while preventing creepy-crawlies from sharing my bathing space. My bathroom window opens into half-blooming fields of yellow mustard.
The day is warm, but the mini forest at the farm ensures natural air-conditioning, in which I take deep breaths; fresh air is a luxury for my citified lungs. I spend the morning lazing in the breeze on a woven khatiya, spotting magnificently coloured birds flying from tree to tree and often breaking the silence with the sweet harmony of birdcalls. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the chaupal, I have a sumptuous meal of Manjoo-didi’s chulha food, cooked with vegetables grown organically on the farm; I can tell the freshness of this meal apart from anything else I’ve tried in Rajasthan.
We play hopscotch that afternoon, and as she jumps from one tile to another, the music of her anklets intoxicates me. When the sun starts to set, I venture out of the farm and into the fields of mustard and jo that surround it. The yellow crops shimmer in the light, reminding me of Sting’s fields of gold.
I walk along, now spotting a Kingfisher perched on a tree, now cringing at the carcass of a dead camel in a dry river bed, now smiling at a lady working in the farm, adding a bright red colour to the vast stretch of green & yellow. Living everyday in the city, we forget that it is the little things that bring the most joy to our stressful lives.
Unlike most sunsets I’ve seen, the sun doesn’t paint itself or the sky with bright pink or red colours. It assumes a soothing pale yellow form, and sprays some yellow colour into the sky around it, leaving it largely untouched by its departure. I walk back to my farm to warm myself by the heat of the chulha and dine under the stars, accompanied by folklore animatedly related by the couple. We talk about the villages near the farm, the folk culture of Rajasthan, and their curiosity about life where I come from.
When we part ways for the night, I carry with me a strange sense of longing; I long for their contentment, the innocence of their thoughts, and the simplicity with which they live in this little green haven.