National Geographic : 2010 Feb
• command, "Don't cry---you're a Lohar." Kartar's son Arjun was the living expression of Lohar pride. About ten years old, he had wide, expres- sive features and the build of a junior wrestling champion. Arjun took unconcealed pleasure in his prowess with a sledgehammer, hoisting it tirelessly as his father urged him on with shouts of "Harder! Faster!" I had been asking the Lohar when they planned to move on, and each time the answer was the same: tomorrow. en to- morrow nally came. I showed up at the camp- site one morning to find them loading their carts. Tools were stowed in compartments, bullocks muscled into harnesses, bedding folded and piled on board along with cots, re- blackened cooking vessels, and family members too young or in rm to walk alongside. Finally, on some unspoken signal, the ragged caravan lurched forward, ironbound wheels clattering on the pavement. Oncoming tra c, mostly mo- torcycles and homemade diesel-powered jalop- ies called jugards, gave way as the Lohar moved down the narrow road past mustard elds and rippling winter wheat. It was hard not to be captivated by the ro- mance of the scene. Here, a er all, was a lost tribe in motion. Blot out the sputtering, Indian- made Hondas and the orange-and-white mi- crowave towers, and the Lohar were virtually indistinguishable from the proud Rajput artisans who ed Chittaurgarh nearly half a millennium ago. What would these medieval time travelers forfeit if they gave up their wandering and en- tered society's mainstream? In terms of their culture and traditions, probably everything. It seemed like a high price to pay. Lohar peo- ple I met everywhere cling to their nomadic identity. Yet most made it clear that they live out of their carts for the simple reason that they have no other choice. "I will be the most happy person in the world if I get some land and a house," Lallu told me one night. Kanya, too, ached for the comforts of a home she'd never known. eir yearning was easy enough to grasp. Even in this rural pocket of Rajasthan, there was evidence of India's rapid economic transformation in the cell phones car- ried by many of the Lohar's customers (though not the Lohar themselves) and the satellite dishes sprouting from the larger farmhouses. It seemed natural that they would want a share of this new prosperity. Moreover, their conscious- ness has been raised. Like other nomadic groups in northern Rajasthan, the Lohar have been encouraged by local land-rights activists to ap- ply to the local governing council for land and housing. Besides providing them with shelter, this also would satisfy the Indian bureaucracy's need for a xed address, without which access to welfare bene ts, such as subsidized cooking oil and free medical care, is quite di cult. But so far their e orts have been for naught. O cials in one town where the Lohar had made an appeal said they had no land to give---and that even if they did, they doubted the Lohar would take it. " ey don't want to settle," one o cial said dismissively. " ey want to live on the road." The same response came in Thana Ghazi, about 60 miles northeast of Jaipur, where local o cials had reluctantly provided plots for a doz- en Lohar families on a spur of the town's busiest thoroughfare. The blacksmiths lived in one- room brick houses with their carts and forges out front. But a er ve years, the town had pro- vided no electricity and had turned down their application for a communal latrine. e pradhan, the senior elected o cial for the district, con rmed that he had resisted pro- viding the settlement with services because he didn't think the Lohar should have been per- mitted to settle there in the rst place. It was too close to a girls' hostel and a high school, he explained, and they would be better o on another tract outside of town. Paras the magician relies on a jester's hat of buttons, coins, and shells to attract an audience in Rajasthan. The appeal of his card tricks is steadily dwindling, outdone by the wizardry of television, available now throughout rural India.