Some years ago my father was on an official visit to India, and as a part of his work he had to travel to a number of cities. Since it was the vacation period of time and my mother had taken off from her office for some other reason, my dad decided that he must take us along. We first reached Delhi through an Emirates flight and later we landed at the Delhi airport. I did not find Delhi International Airport as â€˜flashy’ and â€˜extravagant’, as I have seen some other airports whenever I have had accompanied my father on his official visits, like one in Shanghai. But it is not Delhi that I am going to write about, it is Jaipur.
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is the capital city of Rajasthan, a state bordering Gujarat and known for many tales of valor, Rajput rule, the Thar Desert and impeccable forts and palaces. Of all the cities that we visited that time, Jaipur stayed on my mind as an indelible mark, most permanent of which was Hawa Mahal or the “Palace of Winds”; it is a 17th century marvel built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, which bears similarity to Lord Krishna’s crown. From a distance it looks like a honeycomb, probably because of small windows, 953 in number, which our local tour escort told us are called jharokhas. The Palace of Winds was definitely impressive, but what was catching my attention again and again was innumerable number of small shops on the walkway selling very colorful items like miniature umbrellas, key holders painted with caparisoned elephants, and old antique jewelry.Â Â
Furtherthere were snake-charmers; their snakes were dancing to their tunes, which they call as â€œbheenâ€ in their local language. The roundabout at this place was called Bari Chaupar; Bari is big and Chaupar is a fourway, which means Big Fourway. When I heard this, I asked as every other child would, â€œis there a small fourway as well?â€ I had made a sort of discovery when the guide replied affirmatively that it was called Chhoti Chaupar; Chhoti means small and Chaupar is Fourway. We visited Chhoti Chaupar later and it was an old world’s charm. There weren’t any snake-charmers, but a real treat was pink shops lined up on each side of the road as far as your sight could go. Each shop had a platform for guests to settle down when caparisoned elephants would pass by in a procession during festivals like Teej and Gangaur. I had the chance to watch Teej procession and mother and I laughed when my father, who was jostling for space amid the crowd for pictures, was shouldered by two robust men and given a vantage point. One impressive site that I encountered at the Chhoti Chaupar was a roadside locksmith. He had an impressive collection of locks which he claimed were from 17th century, a theory that I did not buy. But yes, those were unique locks, very odd in shape and for each it was very difficult to find where the key would fit in.
For rest of the days we explored the suburban side of the city and moved in almost all directions. It was evident from the new houses that had come on the periphery of the city that rural folks were moving towards suburban areas looking for greater space and better air. It seemed to me that wherever the city was moving, it was not moving in an unplanned manner. Each change carried with it was an indelible mark from the royal history of the state. Even airport seemed to be more like a heritage hotel lobby with murals painted on its facades than an airport. Early this year, I was again there and instead of exploring new places of interest, I wanted to revisit memory lane of the past. Hawa Mahal still stands there and probably would as far as time permits; it looked the same, but apparently it has been repainted pink. The road by it has been widened, divided into two, and the miniature umbrellas were not as vividly visible as they were then.
Below the Hawa Mahal an underground metro rail is coming up, and construction work is going on in full swing, some marks of which show above ground when you come across construction material parked here and there.
The shops seemed to have shrunk due to widening of the road. It seems some of them have had to give up the front portions of their shops to make way for the road building. They look odd, and I do not think that widening the road was worth it. They could have instead passed an order to use bicycles in this portion of the city and make parking lots elsewhere, so that people could park their cars there and take a bicycle ride from the parking lot. I wondered where guests would settle when it is time again for Teej or Gangaur.
The suburban areas of the city have now become almost urban and construction work on metro rail, both above and underground is being undertaken on a fast scale. It has started leaving an arterial trail through the city’s landscape and seems to be slicing badly through its heritage look. Although changes related to modes of transportation are important everywhere, but the city could have avoided this change â€“ they could have built wider roads in suburban areas instead.