A Crude Resurrection

Barmer is a little town in Rajasthan that generally has escaped attention in every conceivable way. There isn’t much I could have done in introducing the town, until yesterday. I was reading the Open magazine (8th October) which is a magazine I recommend to everyone who wants to read some light yet insightful journalism at display. In that I was surprised to find a 4 page article dedicated to Barmer. I was instantly captivated. Barmer had changed; desperately and drastically.

When I was 11, I went to Barmer for the first time. My dad was in the Army and we were stationed in Jodhpur. Visiting every nook of Rajasthan had become a mission in the family and we didn’t leave tiny Barmer too. Now every city we visited in Rajasthan was of immense interest to my Mom for the unbelievable shopping and to me for the history. Barmer, and this is with no offense to anyone, has neither. But the beauty of a shopaholic’s mind is that any market with a bunch of shopkeepers ready for a good bargain becomes a shopping festival. As I trudged from shop to shop and my mom skipped the same distance, I began to wonder what hope there is for this town. I began to questions its very existence as a destination for any traveler. Bordering the Thar desert, the heat was scorching and the apathy on people’s faces was painful. This was a town destined for ignominy. We later lunched at the District Collector’s house and I was surprised that a man so young and so sharp had landed himself in a place so backward and desperately hurtling towards nothingness. I hoped and prayed that this place would see a brighter light and I was told by my Dad to keep my opinions to myself.

So it came as a huge surprise when I read that Barmer has now transformed itself into a potential Dubai. And please take the word ‘potential’ very seriously in the last sentence as this story can go very wrong too. But the desert sands engulfing Barmer on most days, has been found to have amazing reserves of crude oil below. Reserves of crude oil that can accommodate a tenth of India’s total demand in another couple of years and this will continue increasing. Oilmen from Cairn to Halliburton to ONGC have descended upon this piece of nothingness, as I had described it many years ago. There are Harleys, swanky SUVs, farm houses with wood finish and glass panels and parties with Red Labels. Oil has changed the town. It has ensured there is no ignominy anymore. There are many questions that Barmer still has to answer: Can they sustain the projects? Will the influx of expats influence local culture? Will the public infrastructure keep up with the growth of the city? Are there going to be 2 Barmers – the one I knew and the one where they discovered crude oil? These are questions the town will continue to grapple with. But my thoughts steer to something very different.

I wonder if that is all it takes. It takes a little black liquid to change everything and every way we think of a town, a country and possibly our civilization many years later. Pardon the philosophical deep dive I am going to take here, but are we really hostages to fantasy? Because for me this is a fantasy. I cannot envisage Barmer to be what this article describes it. I suddenly want to go there again, not due to some material delinquency, but just because it seems so unreal. Here is a town that has existed for the same amount of years as me since the day I went there and has gone through such a dynamic or let’s make that, drastic change. Where have I gotten in that time? Am I competing with a town? No. I am thinking of evolution, of change and of rash judgments we make in our everyday lives. Barmer has turned the corner, announced its arrival and now it will deal with the consequences. In finding crude oil it has found a solution to its problems and possibly created some new ones too. But most importantly, it has resurrected itself, just that it’s a very crude resurrection.

Now how do I go about my own resurrection?