Dancing with the Kalbeliya Tribe
I have been reminding Kamlesh, every week since I arrived in Rajasthan that I want to spend more time with the Kalbeliya gypsies. He doesn’t need reminding and is patient with me. He told me that a family are camped on his father’s farm, about an hour and a half’s drive from Jasailmer. I have met a few of them a couple of times before when they come and dance on the camel safari, but I want to spend some time with them. Some 17 years ago, I went to the gypsy festival in Sainte Marie sur la Mer in the South of France where ten thousand gypsies come to honour the Black Madonna there. It is on every May if you want to go and is a feast in a very different way to this rural life. I had read that Romani gypsies can linguistically trace their origins back to Rajasthan. Back then I had wanted to meet them some day. Like many files stored in our minds this one has finally come to the present.
We have recently finished running the art tour and in the early morning before the 39 degree day creeps in, Kamlesh and I head out to the farm on his bike. It is way off the beaten track and he finds his way across sand tracks. A Kalbeliya family from the Jogi tribe, have been camped there for 15 years; a middle aged mother and father, with their three daughter’s and son’s children, and about 100 goats. The ground is ancient and very dry and reminds me of my home at the end of summer in Western Australia.
Initially the children are shy but after a round of bananas Kamlesh takes off and leaves me with the women and children, telling me they will sing and dance if he goes. I try drawing and painting with them and start playing and before long we are in each other’s arms and it feels the most natural place in the world for me.
They start laughing and singing and dancing. Aturki, the younger mother, gets me some local clothes to wear and we go walking together with the kids to the field where the others are harvesting.
Kalbeliya are known nowadays for their beautiful sensuous dance and mesmerizing music. They also used to be known more for their skill in catching snakes and taking their venom. The venom would be sold to warriors for the tips of arrows and for poisoning people or for medicinal purposes.There is still usually one family member who can snake charm with the cobra. They still catch snakes, but nowadays, for their living they mostly farm and dance. They are Hindu and they trace their ancestry from Kanlipar, the 12th disciple of Guru Gorakhnath.
It is the end of the mustard harvest and by my English Kentish background it still looks extremely dry to me, except for a huge shady tree and some bushes. Kamlesh later shows me where the monsoon creates a lake and we visit an existing small natural lake that never runs dry where local young village men are swimming. They ask Kamlesh if he can bring younger women next time.
After a few hours of signing and chatting and playing with the kids it is time to leave and he promises me that next time I can stay a few days; now that we have met. Their lack of possessions and rich connections with each other and the land etch into my heart.
As we ride back home across the desert with my head wrapped in red cloth against the sun, my heart feels so free and happy and I thankful for how life just keeps getting richer and richer. I often think… Who would have thought? Back when I was a student nurse in London in 1983…Goodness knows what I will be up to when I am 80 with long flowing white hair, on my own motorbike with my grandchild, in some place I have not even dreamt of yet….maybe.