I learnt how to swim in a tributary of the Indira Gandhi Canal in the interiors of Rajasthan. During one such session, seated atop the crumbling brick borders of the chota canal as we used to call it, we saw a banjara (nomad) goatherd stroll past.
Long stick in one hand, presumably for the goats and a cloth bundle in the other, he walked to the cement platform alongside the canal and slowly squatted, groaning as he did so, placing the stick on to one side, the cloth bundle in front of him and rested his elbows on his knees, arms outstretched, gaze directed towards the rising run in the horizon.
Looking away from the horizon and towards the cloth bundle, with slow, economical movements, he opened it to show a pile of thick, rough rotis. Dividing the stack into two revealed an onion, a few green chillies and a little salt wrapped in a piece of newspaper ensconced within the pile. Unhurriedly, he slowly rose, made his way to the steps, descended them and proceeded to roll up his sleeves, wash his hands and face, wipe them dry with a length of cloth around his shoulders and return to his place in front of the pile of rotis.
Once again gazing forward, not appearing to see anything in particular, he tore off a piece of roti and stuffed it into his mouth, slowly chewing. Before the next morsel, he smashed the onion into two halves and unwrapped the salt, this time accompanying the piece of roti with a bite of onion and another of the green chilli dipped in salt, the crunch of his bites carrying all the way to 12 year old me, still curiously watching.
Over the next 10 minutes, this dirt poor man with nothing to his name but a handful of goats, ate a decidedly poor meal in the manner of a king sitting down to the richest of repasts. He chewed and crunched and scrunched and belched and finally, the cloth was all that was left. He then picked up a metal tumbler full of water at his side and raising it above his lips proceeded to take a leisurely drink of cool water that I’m sure was very welcome. This too he did in a manner most satisfying, gulping loudly as he did so, streams of water running down his face and neck, ending the entire ritual with a loud burp of satisfaction.
This morning, I did the same thing, to try and experience a fraction of what that man did so many years ago. I hadn’t been herding goats all morning, nor had I trudged miles without a drink of water or bite to eat. Nonetheless, my morning meal of bajre ki roti, a raw onion, green chilies, salt and tea was delicious and incomparable to most others.