Our short trip to Jaipur last month was not just about the fabulous wedding we attended. A small but significant highlight was the delightful beauty of the Hotel Mandawa Haveli, where we stayed. Before checking out and heading back home, I caught Aadyaa and Amma in action. They bonded, as only a granddaughter and a grandmother can over flowers and decor, a shimmering swimming pool and tantalizing jharokhas. I followed them around, taking these pictures and admiring the unassuming yet typically Rajasthani beauty of this modest, but well run hotel.
Rajasthan. The mere mention of it evokes memories of music, heritage, colour, grandeur, tradition. All of these ingredients were brought together in the most elegant manner for us to experience at the wedding of a dear friend in Jaipur. As it happens often in India, friends turn into family effortlessly over time; we are fortunate to still preserve those elements of our culture that allow us to do so. Nirbhay, whose sister was the bride, is a dear friend and because he lovingly calls Rahul dada (older brother), we are knit into a successive web of relationships in a manner typical to Indian culture. And so, there we were- Aadyaa, Amma and me, imbibing the ambience of a traditional Rajput wedding in Jaipur.
Some of what I saw was familiar to me, being married into the same community in another part of Rajasthan. But this was the first time I was seeing a Jaipur wedding and I was happy to sit back (with my camera) and admire the jewellery and clothes, the refined mannerisms and confidence of those born into royalty, with myriad interpretations of what that means in modern times.
The traditionalism in a Rajput wedding is marker, with the men and the women socializing in separate areas and everyone turned out in traditional attire. Whereas in a wedding in Delhi or Mumbai, one would see several interpretations of Indian clothing, much of it influenced by Western styling, this wedding very much reflected the pride of the Rajput community in its own unalderated traditions. Women wore heavily embroidered poshak (comprising of 4 parts-a lehenga, odhni, kurti and kachli), in colour combinations that were both the conventional bright as well as a more modern range of pastel colours. The jewellery also is distinct, with the typical round rakhdi worn on the forehead, the heavy aad on the neck, bajuband on the arms, bangdis (bangles) and gold pajeb (anklets) being typical to the Rajput community. I thoroughly enjoyed taking portraits of some of the loveliest women I have ever seen (see if you agree!).
While the women outdo each other to wear the loveliest and most unique poshaks, the bride traditionally wears red (or yellow in some families). The bride, Shruti, wore a lovely red poshak with traditional embroidery on it (I hear her mother hand embroidered it for her and I cannot imagine the love and feeling that went into that, lucky girl!) with exquisite jewelry. The impact was intensified by the minimal make up and I loved the simplicity of her look. It also ensured she was very comfortable through the ceremony. In fact, when I met her moments before her wedding, she told me she was surprised about how light and easy to manage her attire was! A sign indeed of a happy carefree bride!
The men are dressed in bandhgalas (also called sherwanis), worn with trousers or breaches. Men also wear jewelry, especially on the neck and ear studs as well plus the distinctive saafa (headgear) that is actually several yards of cotton tied on the head. I was specially impressed by the bridegroom’s sartorial sense, his sherwani was made of a subtle brocade silk and so were his jootis (shoes), all matching matching! His kamarband that held the traditional sword (a mark of the warrior class) was also very subtle and elegant.
Much of the ambience was also created by the architecture around us. Dera Mandawa, the stunning boutique hotel that Nirbhay’s family runs (it is an extension of their own home), made the perfect setting for a traditional wedding. I admired, through the evening, the taste with which the decor had been chosen, the wonderful voices of the folk musicians that pervaded the air, the understated elegance of the ceremony. I could have expected nothing less from the family, especially the father of the bride, Thakur Durga Singh who is a true connoisseur of art and culture and responsible for quite a bit of the insights that I have about the state and its culture, especially the Shekawati region. All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable evenings I spent. I was so glad I took my camera along, so I could share some glimpses here with all of you.
We made a few navigation errors while returning from Dausa to Gurgaon, routing through smaller roads rather than the faster highway. No regrets though, for in Alwar district around Sariska, we saw some more architectural marvels as well as some of the most scenic views of the Aravallis I have laid my eyes on. I hadn’t set up any expectations, so I was delighted indeed!
Ajeybgarh loomed up before us, a seemingly lone fort atop a hillock. Then we saw some submerged monuments in a lake. We turned the corner and there it was before us, an entire town of abandoned, ruined structures. Now I know from various sources on the Internet, that Ajeybgarh is a fortified town built in the 1630s by Ajab Singh Rajawat, who was the grandson of the founding ruler of Bhangarh, Madho Singh. The family was closely related to the Mughals as Madho Singh was the younger sibling of Maharaja Mansingh, who was the General of Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army. In fact, the famous Jodha Bai was a grand aunt of Ajab Singh and both Akbar and Shahjanah were guests at Ajeybgarh.
Interestingly, Bhangarh which we did not see but isn’t too far from here, is one of the most well known haunted spots in India! Legend has it that the town was deserted overnight when an evil magician cursed it and no one is allowed to be in there after dusk. I can bet that has piqued your curiosity for this area! Mine is, for sure, but more so because it is supposed to be a magnificent heritage and archaeological site.
Later, we also passed through the town of Pratapgarh, which also is dominated by the fort that towers over its daily activities. We lost our way here, so we criss-crossed the town a few times and each time, the fort framed our views. Unfortunately the sunlight was blinding and the photographs are only silhouettes.
I’ve been to Sariska a very long time ago and to Alwar only for family weddings. The vignettes I saw on this drive certainly make for a more relaxed trip to Sariska, Alwar, Bhangarh, Ajeybgarh and Pratapgarh. I would say it would be comfortable to do this on a 3 day weekend. Alwar is only a few hours away from Gurgaon where I live. Sounds utterly doable and mu travel diary is filling again!!
Watching Chakravyuh just after we came back from the village makes me wonder about how much a person’s point of view informs their own reality, how much realities differ from person to person and how confusing it is to unravel these multiple perspectives in an attempt to see things for what they really are. But that’s the thing, reality is not absolute.
In Chakravyuh, Prakash Jha exposes us to the multiple realities of Naxalism. The State perceives them as terrorists, while they believe they fight for the rights of the tribals. In a situation where the very meaning of the development is conflicting- with tribals rejecting any form of development that devours land and resources and the State believing that industrialization is the only viable form development can take- this is a fight in which it’s hard to even take sides. And that is brought out well in the film.
Back in Jalwara, we got disturbing feedback on local politics and economics and much of it conflicted with our urban perceptions of rural issues. As landowners, our family is finding it tough to find adequate labor to work in the fields. Apparently, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or commonly known as NREGA incentivizes people to not work as they get paid a minimum number of hours whether or not they work. At crunch times, landowners have to request officials to delay NREGA payouts so that they get people to work the fields. Of course, the other point of view is that landowners can pay more than what the NREGA offers which is minimum wage and get around this. In fact, NREGA has been responsible for labor wages shooting up across the nation and in that sense, it has benefited the poor. Analysts have also proven that NREGA creating shortage of labor is simply a myth and that the rural poor would not logically opt to work for lesser wages paid weekly, fortnightly or even monthly by NREGA if better wages were paid daily by employers. I don’t understand the economics of this in detail, but this debate is another confirmation that we need better systems to manage, monitor and deliver subsidies so that people get paid for work they actually do. Plus, the gap between demand for labor and supply of workforce needs to be managed as well in some manner, though ideally the market should take care of this by itself.
Another disturbing piece of news was that the Naxals have tried to cross over from neighboring Madhya Pradesh into the Baran district in Rajasthan, hoping to recruit local tribals like the Sahariyas. Fortunately, these Sahariyas, as one landowner in Jalwara referred to caustically as the ‘tigers’ of Baran district, the hot shots, the guys who get all the resources. A recent editorial by Harsh Mander on this community highlights the fact that malnutrition and death by starvation continue to be a reality today, even though much less than before. Pretty much the only thing that keeps the Naxals out at this point is the special Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) that gives every Sahariya household 35 kgs of wheat a month and keeps them away from starvation. The same article reports, however, that these tribals gets only 10-25 days of work a year instead of the 200 days they are entitled to by the NREGA.
Coming back to Chakravyuh, effective governance in poverty struck areas of this country is critical. We don’t realize it, but as a nation we are very close to being in a situation of complete anarchy. Imagine a life when you will not be able to step out of your home without firearms, your children will lead a life of privilege and constant, unrelenting fear, fear of the poor who will strike back at every opportunity. The disparities are growing and we desperately need to innovate means to make development more inclusive. There is a big job out there. And unless we see inclusive growth as a real objective and not just a fancy word, we’re in trouble indeed!
Most of us have childhood memories of vacations with cousins. Watching the kids all day today has revived mine. What is it about family that enabled children to revive connections instantly? It took five minutes for Udai and Aadyaa to be running around in glee with Golu and Raman in Kota last evening. The drive to Jalwara, our village, this morning and the rest of the day has been intensely pleasurable for the little ones.
No fancy games. Just a lot of screaming, urging Rahul to drive faster and overtake tractors and bikes on the highway, plastic guns and false bullets bought from the local store for a few rupees, and then on our fields, holding ducklings and chicks, picking fresh amrood, playing with water, running wild….
The dynamics are interesting to watch. Udai the oldest, the gang leader of the foursome. Aadyaa and Golu, the chirpy ones, who have formed a close bond already, the tomboy gals. And Raman, the one with the conscience, fruit eater, the gentle one.
As night falls and a freshly slain rooster is cooked over a coal flame, we sit on charpais on family land that goes back two generations. Skies are clear, a sliver of moon looks down at this happy sight. The kids are tired, but not done yet. A pile of sand is now their occupation and sand laddoos are perhaps what we will be fed for dessert!