I took a drive into the Thar. The sun was hot and dry and beautiful. Sand stretched around as far as our eyesight would carry us. We stopped the car and got out in a place without any memorable landmark. We walked around and looked at the nearly nothing that surrounded us.
My son was two or three. He was enthralled by the endlessness of it. A place without walls or horns or people. A place where you could run without watching and fear no accident. No ditch to fall into. No traffic to be wary of. Endless surface just begging to be played with.
We crouched own on the ground together and looked at the sand. It seemed like any other sand at any beach or children’s play pit. We picked it up in our hands and let it slip through our fingers. Eliot was able to see fear in a handful of dust. We saw beauty in a handful of sand.
Despite its playful novelty, the desert was an obviously hard place. Everything alive had to fight to keep living. Every dry and thorny bush. Every skittering lizard and scorpion. And every tree. You wouldn’t think there would be trees in the desert–and deeper into the Thar there wouldn’t even be these grasses, let alone trees. But here there were a few daredevil khejri and neems that had managed to beat the odds to stand alone in vast fields of sand and sparse grasses.
Night fell and we were still out in the open desert. We wandered as the stars burned against the night sky. There were no clouds or city lights to hide them. I had seen stars before–I had been raised on constant trips into the Canadian wilderness. But even the vibrant stars over Temagami could not compare to the lights above the stark emptiness of Thar.
We looked up at a menagerie of flame and void. The Milky Way scattered itself across the scene. One Pakistani folk tale says that the Milky Way is made by the spirits of dead youth who spend eternity scattering grains of salt across the sky. I believed it that night.
We stayed for a long time, walking, praying. The void of desert and sky brought out something within us we all had forgotten. A certain mysticism that all religions try to stumble toward and none really manage to grasp. A sense of the immensity, beauty, and absurdity of existence. An understanding of the cosmic power of love. A yearning to fly into the waiting arms of the universe herself.