Air India Flight 674 from Delhi to Washington Dulles InternationalOct 24, 2010 5:48 AM India TimeJaisalmer, Rajasthan India—1800Dev became conscious of the faint buzz in the background. It sounded like a jet airplane. Was he inside an airplane? He opened his eyes and realized that he was flying above a desert at very high speed. No, he was not inside an airplane above the desert. He was flying like a bird. It was exhilarating. He could see the desert below him as far as the eye could see. He saw the sand dunes and at first he couldn’t see a soul. The vast desert seemed to him as desolate as the landscape on Mars, except this was golden in color, not red, and there were no rocks dotting this desert, but sand dunes—endless sand dunes. He came upon a camel caravan travelling underneath. There must be at least sixty or seventy camels with men and women riding on them. There were other people walking alongside the camels. All the men were wearing white kurtas, white dhotis, with brightly colored turbans on their heads, each unique in design and bright colors, each distinguishing one individual from another. The women were attired in colorful lehangas and ornees—bright orange, lemon yellow, turquoise, scarlet red, lawn green, magenta pink, amber… It was a magnificent extravaganza of colors. Dev slowed down and descended to just a few feet above the caravan. He noticed that most of the men were tall and handsome, with long curly moustaches. The younger women were beautiful and the older ones looked stately. All in all, the bright colors of their garments, the camels, the endless desert and the people themselves looked like a scene from a movie Dev had seen several years ago on the Indian city of Jaisalmer.*****Dev had done extensive research on Jaisalmer and its history. Jaisalmer was a border town in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, which was an exotic mix of magnificent gold-colored sandstone mansions interspersed with sand-colored homes right in the middle of the famous Thar Desert. There were sand dunes all around the city for miles. It was an old trading post town on one of the branches that connected to the Silk Road via the Punjab and the North West Frontier, in the middle ages. By the mid-nineteenth century, maritime trade had taken over. The old Silk Road towns had declined and become ghost towns, to be revived again only in the mid and late 20th century as international tourist destinations. From the 1700s through the 1800s though, Jaisalmer had been in full bloom. Traders from all over India, China and the Middle East visited and the economy thrived. Jaisalmer’s cosmopolitan nature and riches had added even more dynamism, vibrancy, spice, and fun to an already colorful Rajasthani culture. The people of the area were from a migrant stock, tall, almost Persian in complexion and generally handsome. They loved their music, art, architecture and dance. They also loved their wars. They had a side to their character which was warlike and fiercely independent.As Dev recalled all of this, he asked himself if he was really in or around Jaisalmer. If so, how did he get here, and why?As he flew past the camel caravan, he realized that the sun was setting, giving the desert a golden-red glow. The sun itself looked orangish-red and was looming on the horizon, ready to set. The whole scene looked like a dream…wait a minute! He was dreaming. He saw some smoke arising from what looked like a town at a distance. He picked up speed and headed towards the smoke. As he flew over town at a low altitude, his suspicions were confirmed and he instantly recognized the late eighteenth century Jaisalmer from his readings and the paintings he had seen. Narrow streets, paved with rolled compacted sand mixed with clay, magnificent temples rising up from the desert, and bazaars displaying just about everything under the sun. Men and women walked around in rich colorful clothes and the sound of local musical instruments filled the air. The magnificent mansions of Jaisalmer, with intricately carved facades dotted by hundreds of ornate jharokhas looked mysteriously charming in the setting sun, partly shaded and partly lit by the sunlight.Suddenly, Dev found himself above a mansion, perhaps the grandest in Jaisalmer. It was enormous in size and the carving was exquisite. It looked newer than any of the other mansions and his eyes fell upon a tall, imposing man standing on one of the jharokhas . He was richly adorned in an off- white silk tunic and a turquoise-colored dhoti that reached well below his ankle. He wore a necklace studded with large deep green round emeralds. Emerald necklaces were a symbol of the very top in Rajasthani merchant hierarchy. He had a large diamond ring on his left little finger which seemed to emit a blue florescence. He had smooth pale skin and looked like he was in his late 20s. He was not wearing any turban and his thick black hair was shoulder length and neatly brushed back from his forehead. Unlike most men Dev saw in town, the man in the balcony was clean shaven. He was talking to a middle-aged European-looking man. Dev was now convinced he was in some sort of a dream. A European in Jaisalmer in early nineteenth century? The young man in the balcony had the bearing and manner of a man with authority and he just stood there, staring at Dev. Dev remembered something and smiled as if he had just solved a mystery. He clearly recognized the mansion and the man. Excitedly, he flew closer. A slightly detached yet curious half smile of recognition flashed across the man’s face as Dev neared. Dev tried to fly even closer, but he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried. Then he felt a tug that pulled away from the mansion. He tried to wave to the man, but to no avail. From a distance he saw the man in the mansion raise his right hand close to his chest, palm facing out, in a Buddha-like gesture which signified a blessing. Dev strained to reach out to him by extending his arm, but everything went dark and Dev was back in deep sleep.
Of all the places that Dev could have dreamed about while in his coma, it is perhaps not unusual that his state of mind should have triggered thoughts of Jaisalmer. This beautiful town situated in Rajasthan has a very important place in A Perennial Stream.