Book House

This book retells folklores from the mystical deserts of India

Authors Shaguna Gahilote and Prarthana Gahilote
  • The book “Curious Tales from the Desert” by Shaguna Gahilote and Prarthana Gahilote consists of a collection of tales about farmers, kings, witty folks and simple villagers, and offers a glimpse into what makes the deserts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Sindh and Multan so beautiful and diverse.

  • This is the second book in the Curious Tales series.

  • While reading this book, sit back with a bowlful of kheench and get ready to be enchanted by the beauty of the Thar, the nights at Cholistan and the markets of Kutch.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

Every time the moon rose in Dhodra, Nanku’s village near Bhuj, Gujarat, he would run out to sit on the cold white sand, watching it, like a ship had set sail with him on it. Behind him, his tiny thatched-roof hut looked like a distant island where he could go back to curl up once the moon had ripened.

The white desert of his little village was most magical on full moon nights, when salt crystals in the sand shone like diamonds and Nanku fixed his gaze on the rising moon. The moon would peep out of the dark clouds in a blood-red hue, promising a riot of colours as it travelled and aged. From red, it would turn a deep orange mid-course and then deep blue as it gained height. Just as it rolled to the top, the moon turned stark white and Nanku knew the spectacle was over. He would now have to wait another month before the moon put up such a show for him again.

For Nanku, the moon’s monthly marvel was an instant link with his mother, Dhvala, who had passed away and moved on to a better world two years ago. When the moon turned white right overhead, Nanku would imagine she was looking over him from the skies, immersing him in pure white light, or a dhavala.

Ever since Dhvala’s departure, Nanku would huddle with his father, Herik, at night and listen to tales he would pull out from his memory. The tales would take Nanku back to the moon in all its glory and he imagined he was bobbing in dark deep seas. As he would pull closer to his father, resting his head on Herik’s broad shoulders, Herik would tell him stories of the world, of people and animals, of kings and warriors, of the disdainful and the humble, of birds and trees, waterbodies and wildlife, of life and of death. Nanku would delight in these stories and so would his father, for Nanku wasn’t aware that he was going through his tutelage.

Herik had seen life. As a masterly Brahmin, he had spent his life observing people. His knowledge of the culture of his surroundings found him a respect beyond his years. It wasn’t like Herik had any formal education, but he had what could best be called inherent intelligence. It was these nuggets of sagacity that Herik wanted to pass on to Nanku, in the form of tales.

Tonight, Herik wanted to tell Nanku about the shrewd trader who was travelling on the Silk Route on a double-hump camel from his home in Siberia. He wore robes and a scarf to shield himself from the sun. They called him the Wisdom Vendor. He travelled vast routes that stretched from Asia to the Mediterranean, traversing China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece and Italy but carried very little—two pitchers of water on either hump of his camel, a small bag for food, two changes of clothes and a pouch for his earnings. That was strange because unlike other traders, he did not have a string of camels carrying his wares or even sacks hung from his own ride with items he wanted to sell. For a trader, he sure didn’t fit the bill.

As evening set in, the Wisdom Vendor rode his camel to the village square in Dhodra and sat down. Those like Herik noticed a traveller’s presence and gathered around with food, water and fruit. Every village welcomed travellers in this manner. The Wisdom Vendor accepted everything with gratitude. With every offering, he would bless them to live life wisely. The villagers were puzzled. They didn’t understand what the Wisdom Vendor meant by this.

Puzzled, an old cobbler named Jigsu asked, ‘What do you mean by “wisely”? Is it a herb we must consume?’

The Wisdom Vendor burst out laughing. With a hint of a twinkle in his eyes, he said, ‘Perhaps it’s time to tell you a tale.’

The villagers huddled around the Wisdom Vendor before slipping into absolute silence.

He started, ‘Once, I was going through the capital of a kingdom. It was a prosperous kingdom of an able king who took daily rounds of his capital to see how his people fared. On most days, he would change his garb, cover his face with a shawl and walk around. If one day he was dressed as a tailor, on another day he was dressed as a merchant. Many had heard that the king did undercover checks on his people, but till now no one had been able to discover him. The morning after his rounds finished, the king would go about setting right what he may have noticed going wrong.’

The Wisdom Vendor went on, ‘As I crossed the capital, a bunch of traders were waiting at the town’s border. They should have been out and across the river by now, what could they be doing here, I wondered. As I approached the group, a saffron merchant called out, “It’s best to spend a few days here. News just arrived there has been a storm up ahead. It will last a few days. We can’t go to the next town yet.” And with that unscheduled stop began the first sale of wisdom.’

Herik went on to tell Nanku what the Wisdom Vendor had told them that night as Herik and his friends surrounded the Wisdom Vendor to hear about his travels: The Wisdom Vendor wasn’t amused with the idea of camping. He didn’t want to stay there. He was well-rested and could cover miles before he sought refuge, but since the storm could be tricky, he willingly sat his camel down. The camel too was confused at the sudden stop when he hadn’t yet covered his usual distance.

Excerpted with permission from Curious Tales from the Desert, Shaguna Gahilote and Prarthana Gahilote, Puffin Books. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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