Jaipur, the city of Maharanis and their palaces, of kachoris & gewar, of the old & the new.
Perhaps the first planned city of modern India, Jaipur is the city of forts and bazaars and cacophony and colour. Like almost any Indian city, its hallowed past lives in blase’ proximity with the uncertain present – the nearly 300 year old City Wall that encircles the city keeps a patient vigil over the teeming multitudes of smiling people, cows, bikes and litter. Extremely popular amongst both Indian and foreign tourists, Jaipur is as famous for its jewellery & handicrafts as for its BPO expertise.
If you haven’t visited Jaipur, you can catch almost all the major attractions by watching Shudh Desi Romance. We loved the movie for questioning the Indian obsession with “just get married”, and even more for raising these questions in non metropolitan India.
But Shudh Desi Romance doesn’t really capture the soul of Jaipur. For that, you need to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - a tale of British pensioners enticed to an exotic retirement home in Jaipur, only to discover that they’ve been tricked the Indian way. It’s a story that has been done to death a million times, but “thrives on the liver-spotted backs of its sterling silver-haired actors” (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton and Ronald Pickup).
Our big grudge with the film – though set in Jaipur, most parts of the film were shot in Udaipur.
The Manganiar are hereditary folk musicians whose songs are passed down across generations as a form of oral tradition of the desert. The word ‘Manganiyar’ means those who ask for alms, and the Manganiar have survived for centuries in the districts of Balmer & Jaisalmer on the patronage of their wealthy benefactors. Interestingly, although the Manganiar are of Muslim descent, their lifestyle and music invokes several Hindu gods and festivals – possibly on account of their patrons being Rajputs.
The Manganiar inspired Indian theatre director Roysten Abel to create The Manganiyar Seduction a mesmerizing production that evokes the Jaipur Hawa Mahal & the Amsterdam Red Light District. The show was first created for the Osians Cine Festival in Delhi in 2006, and has since travelled to all parts of the world, from New Zealand all the way to Croatia. If there is just one musical you want to see this year, make sure it’s the Manganiyar Seduction.
The capital of Rajput kings is a gastronome’s delight, with many recipes passed down from one generation of “khansama” (chef) to the next. The city is famous for its Dal Batti Churma (a heavy meal made of lentils, Baati or stuffed flour & a churma of jaggery in ghee), Laal Maas (spicy mutton curry), Ghevar (a deep fried sweet dish), Mawa Kachori ( kachodi filled with khoya & sugar syrup), vegetables such as Gatte Ki Sabzi & Ker Sangri and a variety of Rotis.
Our favourite – stuff yourself with the delicious Pyaaz & Mawa Kachoris at LMB (Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar) in Johari Bazaar. And when you just cannot eat any more, head to Natraj on MI Road for the softest gulab jamuns in this part of the world.
Who better than royalty to talk about the city of royals? And the fact that she happens to be someone who was once voted by Vogue as one of the ‘The Ten Most Beautiful Women of the World’ makes the prospect more exciting. A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur by Gayatri Devi may not be a bibliophile’s delight, but it’s an interesting glimpse into the world of royalty, a time of growing up with 500 servants and shooting your first panther at the age of 12 (as the book’s blurb describes Gayatri Devi). A major portion of the book is dedicated to detailing the life of a royal – of palaces & polo matches & fancy cars & dinner at Firpo’s, then Calcutta’s most fashionable restaurant. But what separates the book from any other rich woman’s tale is her description of the political climate in India in the early 1960’s – she held a Guinness Book of Records for the largest landslide victory in the world, winning an astounding 78% of the votes polled in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections.
Read the book for this spunky woman who had this conversation with her elder brother at the age of 12:
Bhaiya, [my older brother] in exasperation, almost shouted at me. “But do remember Jai is also a man. He has lots of girl friends. It shouldn’t mean anything!”
“Then why shouldn’t I be like that, too?” I asked resentfully, knowing that I was so besotted with Jai that I couldn’t possibly think of outside flirtations.
“No, no!” Bhaiya seemed almost shocked. “Girls are different.”