Day 17 (Q) ~ #BlogchatterA2Z
(This post is a first-person narrative from my husband’s point of view, keeping in mind his childhood in Jaipur. He’s often told me stories about it and shown me his family haveli.)
“अंग्रेजों से बचकर यहां छिपे थे भगत सिंह और चंद्रशेखर आजाद,”
Jaipur can be truly experienced within the walled Pink city, in the labyrinthine streets, quirky shops, ever present view of Amer in the distance, and the colorful banners. And, one cannot miss the uniform pink color of all the houses. There’s a story behind the Pink city.
In 1876, Prince Albert was supposed to tour India. To impress the prince, Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II got the entire city painted in terracotta pink (a color which denotes hospitality). Such was his wealth and power, that all his subjects obeyed the order. Obtained from a calcium oxide compound, this soothing pink shade gives the city a very warm and earthy feel. The Maharajah also constructed an ornate Memorial to honor the prince.
The walled city resists life within to advance further. Its people and their lifestyles seem to remain unchanged – walking up to the nearest Kachori shop, chatting leisurely at a sugarcane juice shop, or visiting the century old temples. Navigating a narrow gully full of cattle (who have a life and mood of their own) and randomly parked vehicles- mostly cycles. The soul of this old city has remained the same for decades.
Growing up in this city, I used to frequent our old haveli, situated in Baba Harishchandra Marg, Chandpole Bazar. The actual haveli is inside a dark sub-gully called Shivnarayan Mishra ki Gali. You would typically look for Sampat Kachori shop and take the dark alley next to it, few steps, musty air, and unintended falls (uneven stone path) later, you would see a huge wooden door on the right with metal latches as old as time itself. You push the door and it almost revolts with all its remaining life. You enter the main compound which is like a small parking lot, with stairs going up on one side, and some dark chambered rooms on the other. The stairs go up from different directions, through very narrow and uncomfortably steep steps that take you to more bizarre rooms upstairs.
Our haveli has all the quintessential elements of Havelis of Rajasthan – a courtyard, the narrow walls that support the courtyard scheme, ornate art on the walls, heavy use of limestone and gravel. Strange corners add character to the house. A semi-terrace which didn’t seem to serve any other purpose than catch lost kites, or lost cricket balls. A makeshift toilet. Few open areas on the second floor that caught sunlight and allowed one to do a mini picnic of eating guavas in winters or even play cricket.
We had a long room that almost felt like running into nothingness at the other end. I faintly remember entering that long room (tehkhana/surang, as we used to call it) at times and getting scared out of my wits. The archaic bulbs and ancient switchboards added to the mystery. Even if you light up a bulb, it would, like any other self-respecting small town dweller, keep its ambition low. And light up only a small area of the Tehkhana, as is his wont.
The musty smell was a constant feature. My childhood memories are attached to this smell, and then few. Like running down to buy kachoris if any guest came. Since the famous shop was close-by, we followed the golden rule of “always eating fresh”. It kept us healthy, the frequent trips on the staircase. Waiting for the India Today magazine to arrive every month, and the excitement of reading it. In more fortunate times, we would get our hands on a Sportstar as well. The bickering with age old neighbors over kites. Playing cricket with a cork ball that made the century old walled structure vibrate in protest, and earned us some unwelcome comments. Buying a new cassette and listening to it in old-school tape recorders; arguing over whether it was a good buy.
One vivid theme of living here was the constant confrontation of the old and new. Gazettes were few and far between, and used to fill us with a sense of wonder which can’t be re-imagined in these times of overabundance and embarrassment of riches.
In festivals such as Sankranti or Diwali the place felt less haunted, with lights adorning every corner. Especially during Sankranti, the haveli used to come alive, with sounds, screams and colorful kites all around.
As a kid my biggest fear was falling in the dark space between two havelis from the topmost terrace. It was all the more risky as the terrace wasn’t too big, and the boundary walls were quite low. Anyone who has done kite flying can attest to the maddening level of concentration kites can make you addicted to. Though my elders would do this routine almost sage-like, I often found it tough. Instead, I looked around and observed the other elements – screaming people, music playing on some terrace, different sizes and masses of people all around, smell of pakodas or some such exotic food, the strange cacophony of it all, a sky full of kites, and the few birds jostling for their rightful space …
Coming back to the dark space, let’s call it the black hole of the haveli, we would often see kites fall into it. It was so dark that the kite would become invisible after some time, almost like a spaceship entering a time warp in a Star Trek episode. Till date, I have nightmares of fears instilled from a very young age living and visiting that haveli.