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Footloose on the border, a nomadic life

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar  

In a frontier village, a family lived in tents unmindful of the war cry

Two decades ago, at a time of rising tensions on the border, the entire north-west frontier was on high alert. Our detachment camped near a village on the western front. Some of its residents, especially women and children, had already left for the safety of their relatives’ homes away from the forward area.

Whenever I got a free evening, I used to stroll through the narrow road passing by the village. On one such outing, I noticed a flurry of activity under a large banyan tree, near a cattle pond, on the outskirts of the village.

Quick assembly

A large nomadic family had arrived and set up camp near the pond. The speed with which they moved in surprised me because only the previous day, I saw village buffaloes lying there under the shade. Now the nomad’s unyoked oxen were resting there.

Close by, a couple of gaudy carriages reclined. A bundle of hay and a stack of firewood hung under them. Smoke rose from one of the tents. An infant slept in a cloth cradle. An old man with a long moustache sat on a loose bamboo charpoy and smoked. A dog curled up with her puppies cuddled up alongside. Children caked in dust carelessly played around. Garishly dressed women, wearing elaborate jewellery, spoke a strange language and laughed aloud.

Back in my camp, news channels showed that the nation was on edge. More villagers were leaving.

Unmindful of the gripping frenzy, the nomads carried on with their mundane routines. With no newspapers, TV channels, neighbours, political parties, leaders or enemies and no territory to protect, the women chewed sugar cane as they crouched on the ground, men played the flute and children shot catapults. Almost after a fortnight, I went there again. Lo! There was no trace of the nomads or their curious small world. They had vanished.

Only a couple of cooking stones, some cooking ash, and mounds of cow dung were left behind on the levelled ground. I scanned the area to figure out where they could have fled to. Certainly not westward. The border barriers would stop them, for even nomads have to respect the borders, even if they consider themselves citizens of a boundless world.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 7:05:39 AM |

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