Jaipur / Jodhpur / Bartender: The traffic jams and Jaipur had been oxymorons for me, until I found myself in my hometown on a reporting mission last month.
As my car drove through the twisty city traffic on Christmas Eve, it looked like half the country was on vacation in the Pink City.
Soon my photojournalist colleague and the exasperated driver started abusing my dear Jaipur. The driver joked: “Khana pet kharab kar deta hai aur traffic dimag. Phir kehte hain padharo mhare des (food makes you stomach ache and traffic drives you crazy, then they say come to my state – a reference to popular Rajasthani folk song, Kesariya balam).“
The insult to my town struck me as a personal attack. Smoking, I turned my face to the car window to look at the city, only to realize that the massive lifestyle changes Jaipur has witnessed since 2014 – the year I left the city – had made him almost unrecognizable to me.
When Jaipur had a nightlife
The most fascinating aspect of New Jaipur for me was its nightlife – the city I remembered would fall asleep at 9pm.
The area around Nahargarh Fort – once known for groups of men riding bicycles, Tuborg bottles in hand, after dark – is now spectacular at night. At the time, the fort was closed to visitors at 5 p.m. But the time has now been extended until 9:30 p.m., allowing visitors to feel the night in the fort, with its cannons and halls, once occupied by royalty.
From a neglected fort notorious for young couples looking for places to go, today it is teeming with tourists and vendors selling guava, milk and to chatter. The promenade in front of Jai Mahal has also been beautifully developed, with the palace glittering at night and tourists and local residents enjoying the ice creams and the view.
The city’s other attraction, Hawa Mahal, is also dazzling at night. The hustle and bustle of the old town surrounding it seems to subside when one stops to look at it. “I come here often at night now, after rush hour, and just enjoy the view. The lighting also made the area safe so that we could leave our homes at night, ”one resident told me.
The beautification and development of the city’s tourist attractions comes at a cost, however. The favorite picnic spot of the local residents (Nahargarh), which I remember visiting when I was a child with my family – we took with us boxes full of aloo poor – and later for bike rides with friends on the days we slept at school, not quite in Jaipur wallahs more.
A new coffee culture
The number of cafes in Jaipur has exploded since I left in 2014. I can say this with a certain degree of confidence because before that year there was hardly any “cool cafe” to hang out at. But cafes and bars today can give some Delhi layouts a run for their money.
Cafe Lazy Mojo is one of the new-age cafes to open in Jaipur – five more have now sprung up in the very alley it is in. Further afield, just across the city’s World Trade Park, a cluster of cafes and restaurants has become one of the most popular hangouts for young people today. Gone are the days when the Gaurav Tower shopping center was the only ‘fun place’ for young people in the city.
Business owners have made perfect use of the city’s many heritage properties, turning them into restaurants, cafes and bars, to give their establishments an added edge.
The one I particularly liked was Chirmi in the city’s C-scheme district – a bar brimming with Jaipur’s elites. The vibe here was similar to that of Delhi’s elites mingling with an upscale South Delhi pub. The place also serves as a hostel.
This is one of the few bars housed in one of those lavish heritage properties that someone with an average salary can afford.
The Jaipur public also rated the cafes in the city by “meeting purpose”. Friends in town told me that Malviya Nagar Fort cafe in Jaipur was the new perfect place to rishtas – when the bride and groom (and possibly their families) meet, to check the chances of an alliance.
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A royal drama in my backyard
The mission that brought me to Jaipur was to resolve the long-standing Rs 15,000 crore property dispute involving the descendants of the former royal family. You can read the story here.
While many members and friends of the former royal family of Jaipur spoke to me on condition of anonymity, the only one who accepted an interview was Maharaj Devraj Singh, the grandson of the late Rajmata Gayatri Devi.
When I went to meet Devraj, he was kind enough to show me around the lobby of what was once Gayatri Devi’s residence, Lily Pool, full of priceless artifacts and photographs of the royal family.
As I spoke to the descendants of the former royal family and researched my story, I realized that there was enough drama here for one. desi Crown series.
From brethren betraying brethren, to fighting for the favor of the Rajmata, pressuring royalty to behave and speak a certain way – royalty, whom I had imagined leading a ordinary life (only richer) – that was an eye-opener, as few in India really have the kind of fixation on royal families as is often the case in many other countries.
Meeting with Amra Ram
From Jaipur, we headed to Barmer and to remote villages in the interior of Rajasthan, exploring stories of corruption and chatting with RTI activists fighting it.
Our first stop after meeting Amra Ram – the RTI activist who was allegedly beaten in Barmer for his activism – at a hospital in Jodhpur, was Jassodon Ki Beri, his village.
His wife, son and daughter were waiting for us when we arrived. “Hmm GLP log hain madam, aapko baithne ke liye sofa bhi nahi de sakte (we are poor people, we can’t even afford a sofa to sit on), ”his wife said apologetically, sitting in front of one of the almost bare rooms of their partly pucca house.
This village did not have a passable road. The mobile network and the internet hardly worked either.
Cattle ranching is the main source of livelihood for people here, the groundwater is too saline for agriculture. In the absence of irrigation systems, the only crop grown here is bajra (mils) and the harvest is just enough for families to support themselves, local residents said.
Power connections were installed no more than five years ago, the villagers added, and even now there are long power cuts, with electricity only available four to five hours a day. Even then, when using rented desert coolers in the summer, electricity bills often run up to 10,000 rupees per month, according to some local residents.
The hardships these people face, the daily struggle for survival, made Amra Ram’s determination to rise above and stand up for justice and the rights of those around him, even more encouraging – humbling for someone like me, used to the privilege of being “heard”.
There are many more like Ram, through the villages of Rajasthan and India, braving threats, attacks and difficult lives, to champion the cause of common rights, but their stories rarely go beyond. of their neighborhoods, at a time when the size of its social media tracking decides its success or reach. Read the story here.
Camels in the wild
If your imagination of a Rajasthani village includes people riding camels, think again. The use of animals for transport has declined dramatically in recent years, with more and more people relying on cars, buses or two-wheelers for mobility and tractors for agriculture.
Bhagwan Singh, an RTI activist in Barmer, told me that he had already had five camels, but released them all. “I bring them back sometimes during the monsoon, I go into the jungle to catch them, but I don’t really need them anymore. A lot of people have released their camels, so you will find a lot of wild ones on your way, ”he said.
Rajasthan pass the Rajasthan Camel (Ban on Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Law of 2015, which prohibited the export of camels out of the state for slaughter.
As a result, the demand and valuation of animals has declined and families who previously raised camels no longer want to keep them. According to a Down to earth report, the animal is now more endangered than before and the state’s camel population has declined.
You can meet them in the deserts now, while they are foraging for food. But keep a safe distance if you want to photograph them. If they are angry, they can attack. Believe me, one of them came to charge me.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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