Into the Desert…

Desert is an ever-alluring captivation. A note on a desert ride in the UAE. 

With Shiji and Ali Ahsan: Photo by Hafiz.

With Shiji and Ali Ahsan: Photo by Hafiz.

Life in its completeness; you can see it only in a desert, wrote Muhammed Asad, the legendary scholar and one of the most gifted travelers ever lived. To remember this now, I have not reached any real deep desert; just a few miles off-road, somewhere between Ummul Quwain and Rasal Khaima, in the UAE, thanks to the hospitality of Hafizkka and Shiji bhai. Still, it was good, calm, soothing. No tour conductors, no camel ride, no barbeque, no belly dance. In its pure serenity, desert offers you a sense of timelessness. A haunting loneliness. You desire for the unseen, unknown, untouched, with a profoundly unquenchable thirst. What is beyond this sand dune, you always think. It’s an irresistible temptation. You take pain to reach its peak, and see just another magnificently panoramic desert skyline. The sand dunes are ever transient. The wind keeps changing its shapes amorphously. The beautiful giant sculptures it experiments every day and night! That’s how desert traps its lovers. Bedouins, caravans, prophets, migrations, romances, invasions, tribal battles, extra-ordinary sacrifices: history beckons. The past marries future somewhere here… Nothing great to see, still, you badly miss the ones who have, at some point, planned a journey with you.

The sunlight makes you feel like the sand is translucent. When you hit your feet on a slope, sand would slide like water drops springing down a stream. So slow and so captivating. My friend Ali Ahsan would say, “nearly liquid state, it has”. A few cacti here and there. Some trees, offering the promise of an oasis. When you reach the camel farms where the native Arabs have employed poor Asians and Africans to rear camels – for race, meat, milk – those poor animals and their poorer caretakers would look at you with a philosophical gloom. They give a passing look at Hafizkka’s Land Cruiser parked nearby. For them desert is not an absorbing view for a few moments. It just doesn’t pass by. It lives with them, with all its unpredictable warmth and coolness, with its divine grace and human disgraces. For years and years. The masaras, those miserable tents. Unlike you, they won’t drive away, into the drifting sand with joy and excitement.

Hafizkka and Shiji bhai were kind enough to take us to Al Khan beach after leaving the desert. There we saw an old mosque, the simplest I have ever seen. A humble rectangular structure with vast unroofed verandahs in all sides. Amidst the suffocating skyscrapers, it was a pleasant surprise. It looked like an old painting the orientalists would draw to exoticise the east. When one stands to pray, just facing the sea, but in the front yard of the masjid, the sea wind directly comes to kiss your eyes. Even after the prayer is done, you don’t feel like leaving. Ships far away blink their lights. ‘The sea that everything calls back unto her, calls me’, says Gibran in your ears.

[This was written in 2011, by MUHAMMED NOUSHAD.]

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