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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The lonely life of a camel shepherd

His name is Moorthy, a synonym for God in his native south Indian language. He is, in fact, the all-knowing and omnipotent force to a flock of sheep and eight camels in a desert farm near Jahra. What is amazing about Moorthy is that a day in his life is the sum total of his four year career. For him, there is no difference between Friday or Monday. Every day is the same sun, the same landscape, the same smell and the same faces. Err, correction for the 'same faces' part. One of his sheep was run over by a
speeding bandit about two months ago. Moorthy admits that he still looks for him by instinct, thinking that he may be grazing off the boundary. Then he comes to terms with the fact that he is no longer around.

A day starts very early for Moorthy. Cleaning the pen takes the majority of dawn to accomplish. Breakfast is served to the very impatient flock -oats and packed grains for camels and grass for the rest. After his own breakfast - mostly kuboos and cucumber - Moorthy and his gang will set off for the grazing journey. That expedition takes place in less than a one kilometer area on the farmland that belongs to Moorthy's 'kafeel' (boss/sponsor). Grazing takes up the whole morning.

It's the only time I meet my friend," said Moorthy. His friend, a Bangladeshi shepherd from the neighboring farm, is the only human being Moorthy meets during the long course of a normal day. "We talk for a while, about mobile phones; how much talking time was on offer on special days; about kafeel and the family who comes to spend some weekends and the barbeque diwaniyas..." On such occasions, he said, he turns into a cook as well. "I'm really proud of those nights," said Moorthy with a contented face.

The afternoons are dizzy and drowsy. But Moorthy can't sleep. He has to be like a watchdog. While talking, his eyes are constantly on the lookout. He has a piece of rubber hose in his hand that looks like a cane. "I never beat them," he said, "but it (the rubber hose) gives them a sense of direction and assures my authority," he said with a laugh. You can tell by the way Moorthy treats the flock that their relation is not a master and slave type; rather, it is a master and disciple kind.

However, in the deathly silent farm, Moorthy does have a grumbling rebel. It's the only male camel on the farm. He is a one-camel army, continuously chewing with a vicious look. He is chained in at a fenced area. "He is well kept for mating," Moorthy said, adding, "he has no bad record, but I've chained even his legs just to be on the safe side. As you can see, he jumps every other second." On close observation, you can see a ball-sized hardened skin on the camel's knees - an after-effect of the constant f
ight with the earth.

There are three tents erected on the farm. One is Moorthy's living quarters. The bigger one is exclusively for the sponsor's family and the smallest one is the mosque. Moorthy goes to the tent mosque every evening, around Maghreb time, to meditate. His Hindu background doesn't interfere even in his reading of the Quran, a gift one of his friends gave him a long time ago. "I believe work is worship," he said.

And it's literally true. When you shake hands with him, you feel you are touching a piece of rock. And you really are touched by its warmth.

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