Cheng Chin Yuen

Monday, April 10, 2006

Jaipur (29th – 2nd April)

Jaipur is Rajastan’s capital and is brimming with wealth and commerce. Most importantly, it is brimming with educated people who leave you alone if they are not helping you with directions. After Agra, that was Japiur’s greatest gift of all.

Jaipur, sold as the Pink City is hardly pink save its cinemas which look like giant Barbie birthday cakes. For the first time, I see a Hollywooder billboard. It was of King Kong, which I managed to catch eons ago before I left for India. For the second time, we watch a Bollywood slapstick at the Raj Mandir, a spanking place the size of the UCC at NUS. There were no power cuts and rasping wall-mounted fans this time. Just the good old Indian slapstick and wonderful village scenes. All Indian movies try to encapsulate tiny bits of local culture in them like women drawing water from handpumps, the three-wheeled tuk tuk, market scenes, chotis, how the local drink water from a flask via their hands, daily prayers etc.

The Gangaur Festival was the next best thing that happened here. Essentially a tourist pleaser, the parade consisted of 40 decked-up elephants, adorably sleepy camels, a marching band playing in the key of off, spinning dancers, holy cows with horns of holy blue, a stilt walker, men who were balancing dolls on their heads and finally a scarlet and gold Parvati in her chariot. There were also several hundred thousand revelers on the streets. We had best seats not too far from the Tourism Minister on the dais just opposite the Maharajah’s Palace where the procession emerged. I managed to sneak to the media corner where the camera and videomen were. They let me through seeing that I was a foreigner with a big camera.

In India, we have met with a fair amount of internal racism. Indians who do not treat their fellow citizens well and show preferential treatment to foreigners, even to those with a horrendously helmet hairdo like me. At the Varanasi train station, we were ushered like kings into the enquiry office to have our ‘What platform is the train?’ question answered while the horde was fighting outside to reach the little enquiry window. The guy doing all the answering wasn’t at all in a hurry. Here in Jaipur, two miserable metres from Mr Tourism himself, instructions were that souvenir key-chains were to be distributed to only foreign tourists. Local Indian tourists couldn’t have any and this made one local lady very mad. So were the substandard henna hand jobs, cold drinks and the best seats. Local tourists got them only if they asked and insisted.

The bizarre Jantar Mantar is actually a collection of ancient astrological instruments all designed to ‘determine the position of the heavenly bodies’. These instruments go up to 3-storeys high and would seem more at home at a children’s playground in Alice’s Wonderland.

Women of the past had to keep a purdah (screen). They could not be seen in public and the public could not see them. They must have been bored out of their wits! So the thoughtful king built the Hawa Mahal, a huge 5-storey building with tiny little windows that looked down to the street scene below. It is from here and carved latticed stone windows that his harem could sit and watch go by. The red building looks much better from the outside. Purdah is still practiced today in rural India where some women spend almost their entire lives at home. To be able to keep a woman at home and not sending her out to the fields was a sign and show of wealth and prestige on the hubby’s part! If you want a glimpse of the lives of women in India, read Elisabeth Bumiller’s ‘May you be the mother of a hundred sons’. It also touches on topics like widow burning, arranged marriages, women in power, population control and sati – a deranged ritual where wives self immolate by hopping into their husband’s funeral pyre! My favouite interview went like this:

‘Why do you love your husband?’

‘Because if I don’t, he will beat me.’

The women in rural India mostly lead amazingly salted vegetable existences and they are the answer to India’s biggest problem…


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