Through The Practical Lens
When I made a whirlwind tour of Jaipur early in 2012, the chill in the air along with the colors and overwhelming forts and monuments was thoroughly enjoyable. Unlike Delhi, infamous for its foggy and gloomy winter months, the Pink City was bright and cheerful in spite of being adequately cold. Fast forward to late November 2015. Winter is still playing hide and seek in Jaipur, which is now my adopted city, at least for some time to come.
While I eagerly wait for the chill to settle in, I often find myself contemplating how staying in a place makes you reconstruct and re-examine all the notions you have about it as an outsider. Popular culture paints certain places in certain ways. Bengal has an ‘intellectual’ appeal while Rajasthan has an extremely ‘romanticised’ image.
I have had to deconstruct this image and look at it through a more practical lens. That lens isn’t necessarily mundane though. At least, it is not so with Jaipur. A large part of Jaipur’s romanticism is attached to its quintessential transport option: Autos or TukTuks. You’ll hardly ever find a movie (if shot in Jaipur) which doesn’t have a auto ride in it, that will most definitely flash past veiled women and shops on a narrow stretch!
The Jaipur we live in is hardly anything like that even if you do take an auto ride. For starters, we don’t stay in a cramped gully with dirty children and veiled women. We don’t see regular women or girls wearing traditional Rajasthani attire or even saris in their everyday lives. They dress like the scores of women in any other Indian city. There are no men twirling their mustaches sitting on their haunches, taking long puffs on their hookahs/chillums.
The Jaipur we live in, is well planned, clean, and contemporary with a smattering of malls and restaurant and even a metro service which is still in its nascent stage. Yet it still manages to hold on to its heritage with the architecture. Plenty of buildings have Indo-Saracenic influences.
But the most relevant bit – in our non-romanticised Jaipur – is, we don’t haggle with autowallahs, at all. Instead we avail of private cab services. It takes all of 20-30 bucks more but is much more convenient. Funnily enough tourists – irrespective of nativity – still prefer the autos simply because of the romanticism attached to it. The few times we have tried to avail autos have been painful. In the end, we’ve had to fall back on Uber or Ola. Autowallahs are a breed who are programmed to charge outrageously. They are losing business just like the yellow cabbies in Kolkata but remain unfazed.
However, one of these evenings, we had the most romantic experience. An unexpected one at that. We were at a tandoori takeaway in MI Road. One of those few pockets where you get decent non-vegetarian fare, across all price points. Jaipur is not exactly a meat lovers’ haven. Culinary experiences in Jaipur have been a mixed bag, something I will get to in some other post.
We had ordered our Rotis and Afghani Chicken watching the listless crowd milling around us. A couple of interesting looking vehicles drove past us languidly. On closer inspection, they turned out to be battery driven rickshaws, which have taken to the roads rather recently. Hitherto we had only seen yellow green autos and cycle rickshaws. We decided to take a ‘battery rickshaw’ back home. Only we weren’t sure if any of the drivers would agree to go out of their ‘area’.
Luckily for us, we did find one. 3 kms is quite a distance for a battery driven vehicle, as we realised later. But the slow noiseless ride through the posh quieter stretches of Jaipur far superseded any sort of romanticism I could ever associate with a ‘tuk tuk’ winding down the chaotic walled city emanating a cantankerous noise. It was even more amusing to guide the rather garrulous driver through the not so touristy stretches of a city we only associated with bright colors, historical monuments, and ‘exoticness’ till we started residing here. So much so for romantic rides around the city.
Anyway, being in Jaipur, one can’t miss out on history and a tour of the walled city, i.e. the original Pink City. The latter fascinates me more. I do have plans of exploring the old city.
Narrow gullies, old-fashioned stores, chaotic traffic, every odd ware you can conceive of, pink paint peeling off the facades of now-rickety buildings, clothes hanging on dirty ropes, veiled women with children on their laps peering at the streets through fissures of intricately designed balconies. All of that is extremely photo journal worthy! But not in an auto or rickshaw, not even a battery-driven one! My feet have have always served me well.
Disclaimer: I lay no claim to the photos used. All of them have been sourced via Google.