As darkness fell upon the Baja California desert in Mexico, cacti silhouettes appeared like giant hands of a skeleton rising out of the sand. I set up my tent near a cactus and sat in the door. The sky was full of stars. It reminisced me of my childhood when I used to count stars in the sky from the roof of our house before falling asleep. Now, I looked for those constellations and patterns in the sky which my dad once used to point at for me. This was the same sky, but a different desert, and a couple of decades in between
I was born in the Thal desert. Maybe, that explains my love for the deserts. There is something in the dry barren landscape that always fascinates me. I grew up walking bare feet in the soft sand. As a kid, I used to play in the sand for hours—making sculptures, doing calligraphy and drawing, and practising scientific formulas freshly acquired from school. Many folklore love stories from Pakistan are based in a desert setting so I can sit on top of a sand dune anywhere in the world and imagine the tragic love story of Sassui Punnhun or Heer Ranjha taking place right there. I can even vision my whole life story unfolding in the theatre of the desert.
There is a soul in the sand which speaks to me. It is not a verbal connection but a spiritual one. It is a voice that counsels me and reminds me of my nothingness. While I am in a desert, I feel a longing for the desert, as if the self which belongs to me wants to surrender its existence and become one with the desert. Cycling in the vast emptiness of a desert, I realise how big our planet really is and that there is enough room for everyone yet how foolish we go about waging wars against other countries on petty issues over borders.
I was completely absorbed by the desert when a shooting star in the sky pulled me back.
“When there is a big desert in my home town, what am I doing in this desert on the other side of the planet?” I wondered. Maybe, the remembrance only comes after separation. I wouldn’t need to remember the Thal Desert had I not left Layyah.
Sitting in my tent and seeing the entire universe circling around the cactus tree, I asked myself, “is there any other place I want to be right now?”
As I thought about the answer, I saw the stars glowing even brighter. I closed my eyes and lied down inside the tent, afraid to open my eyes again lest the view of the sky trickled from memory.