My initial plan was to head for Yazd city, the capital of the central Iranian province of the same name, from Isfahan. But my friend Javed insists that I visit his home-village Varzaneh, about an hour’s drive from Isfahan. Javed is a student of Mathematics at the Isfahan University. He, however, apologizes that his home being ‘very tiny’ he can’t host me at his home. Then? No problem, assures Javed, Varzaneh has a couple of ‘guest houses’, the owner of one of them is his friend and he will offer me a fantastic room-rent. At any rate. He adds, the village is so beautiful that I will want to spend little time in my rooms. With such assurances, I jump into one of his professor’s car, in which Javed has managed a free ride for both of us. The gentleman lives in another village, the road to which passes through Varzaneh.
Soon we pass by Isfahan’s Uranium conversion plant, which was opened to UN inspectors exactly two years ago, following years of hard bargaining with the group constituted of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. Coded as P5+1, it’s hard to decode, though, how this group claims to represent ‘the international community’, when it has no member from three whole continents, Africa, South America and Australia, nor from areas far larger than the whole of Europe both in size and population, such as South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. But power and fairness have without exception been at each other’s throat since the beginning of civilization. Once you get stuck in that labyrinth, no story can move ahead.
We are travelling in a comfortable air-conditioned sedan. I notice that within minutes of leaving Isfahan the speedometer of the car hits 60 MPH. Traffic on the road is sparse and the highway silken. Quickly it becomes clear that we are moving towards a desert. In the horizon we see faint outlines of rugged hills. I am excited. I shall soon be face to face with Nature’s creation of the Nothing. India has the huge Thar desert. Unfortunately I’ve never been to West Rajasthan.
We pass by a few villages once in a while. The similarity with western Rajasthan, as I have seen it in films and on TV, is unmistakable: small mud houses, sheep herds, complete absence of large shady trees and the dirty yellow earth stretching to the horizon strewn with sun-burnt grey shrubs. But for the Farsi writings on the mud walls, it could have been that part of my own country, where I haven’t set foot in my whole life! In time the shrubs give away to patches of green: tilled land with standing crops: a variety of lentil, I am told. But the green patches are not as dense as we find in Bengal.
We enter Varzaneh village. It’s a little past noon. There’s not a soul on the streets. Windows and doors are tight shut. The professor bids us goodbye and speeds away towards his village.
We reach Yasana Guest House. There’s no sign board, though. It’s a solid door of thick unpolished wood-planks. We enter into the arms of the owner and his staff, two young men. They get into quickly arranging my room, indeed rooms, for one leads to another. A refrigerator, a kitchen, and in the bedroom, a narrow iron bedstead with four thick brand new polythene wrapped mattresses stacked on it, and an old mirror in a niche. My first reaction is to figure out how to climb on top of those four mattresses, which make the bed some four feet plus high from the ground. And my second thought is about what kind of medical help I might get in this village if I fall off this elevated bed at the dead of night in sleep, given my rather bad spondylitis. When I tell the polite elderly owner of the guest house about my little problem, he is mildly amused that it didn’t occur to me that the arrangement is to ensure that even if my whole family had turned up, I could pull down the mattresses, spread them on the floor according to our wishes in the two rooms and have a good night’s sleep. ‘Now that you are alone, throw all of them on the floor Aga!’
Correct. My complicated mind hadn’t figured out this simple solution!
‘Let me finish offering my Namaz, and we will promptly go out,’ says Javed and leaves. He has informed his parents that he won’t be home before evening. This gives me an opportunity to have a bath and rest my back for a little while. But that little while keeps stretching. There’s no sign of Javed. Around three I step out of the room and run into him. What’s the matter? The internet facility of the village had conked off. The local net-service provider had dragged Javed to fix it, because there’s no techie in the village. Apparently every time this happens, Javed walks his friend to the solution over phone from Isfahan! Is it fixed, now? Yes. Can I use the net? But of course, the whole guest house is Wi-Fi-ed. Hmm! I make a mental note.
In the meantime, however, Javed has arranged over phone a hired car that will take us to the desert. In fifteen minutes we are deep inside the golden nudity of the desert. Sand dunes in sharp tight erotic shapes stretch to the horizon as far as the eye can see. We take off our shoes and socks, and climb onto a dune. It is impossible for me to imagine the ruthlessness of desert, with our car standing a little distance away, and with the knowledge that jumping into it we can get back to the Wi-Fi zone in half an hour.
‘Doostam, my friend, I have lost two expensive cameras to the desert. Trust me the sand in the air can kill your cameras in minutes,’ Javed warns me. I don’t listen to him. For the first time in my life I am face to face with a wild space, where Nature reminds you, don’t be boastful of Life. Creation is not about the living, neither about life alone.
I shall not pretend to fathom the killing reality of the desert that stretches before me for hundreds of kilometers. A space through which has passed the silk route to Isfahan, traversing which god knows how many caravans have been driven to death, over thousands of years. For me, it’s a voyeuristic look into a dramatic beauty, which I soon find, can take you to breathtaking climaxes, when the night penetrates the day. It begins with the slow but steady picking up of the wind, like heavy breath. Now it’s a gust. I can hear the sound picking up too.
And in moments the whole existence before me begins to perspire in myriad shades of colour from the earth to the horizon to the sky. They get deeper and deeper before the last drop is squeezed out and existence collapses into the peaceful resignation of complete darkness. We stand there, life on the edge of a vast nothingness, intoxicated. Javed tells me that the dawn in the desert can often be as intense. Forugh’s lines shoot through my mind:
Life is perhaps lighting up a cigarette
in the narcotic repose between two love-makings. (1)
- Tavalodi Digar (Another Birth): Forugh Farrokhzad. http://www.forughfarrokhzad.org/selectedworks/selectedworks1.php