Jaipur, a city planned and laid out under the aegis of the princely families in 18th century has very interestingly burgeoned on two layers of growth. Embellished and clad in the pink wrap of the princely plaster shade of elegance, its identity seems to be frozen in yesteryears. An anecdote of its royal history to its partly intact living present aptly makes it the city of victory (~jai-pur).
A growth which has on one side (and overtime) enlivened the ‘uniqueness’ of the city, on the other has delineated (or diffused) towards the outward extension of the originally planned grid-layout* scheme. The rising permanent and fleeting population of the cityscape has built a stark sense of myriad criss-crossing patterns of lifestyles. Showing glimpses of an order with a chaotic city or the other way round, it offers the liberty of interpretation to the observer.
These two layers, extremely contrasting-yet blended bring up two pictures of Jaipur from two different lenses of view. One is the macro-scale of reading (a noticeable layout of expanse of the city or the overpowering pattern of streets and junctions forming a conspicuous graphic of uniformity/homogeneity and its breakdown in the mind) and the other a micro-scale of experiencing (the tangible and intangible projections of characteristic features on the street level). The two scales hit the visitor from the contrast and graduating change in fabric from the old to new to the outskirts of the city.
Both of these layers of observation of a place rich on heritage and lifestyle has multiple functional relationships of the built-space use, the activity patterns of the old parts of city, the distinct stylistic architectural language of features and compositions and the strong awareness of its people towards their culture and its belonging. Trade which has been the binding force of the city’s authentic craft to the outside world has projected itself through tourism, which has taken on the role of the city’s lifeline which thrives on manifold levels. It has supported Jaipur in becoming one of India’s famous touristic city.This is an account of some of our delightful memoirs of observations from the city .On our visit, we realised the above two scales from diverse perspectives. These frames of reference were interestingly split between two parts of the city as we walked the city. Our location of stay was on the fringes of the grid (like in Cover Image)- Sindhi Camp and consequently our vicinity to the old city and the main bus terminal kept us magnetically tied to the activity rush of daily chores and businesses of the settlement. Where one intervention was the metro line passing overhead, interspersed in this colony, the other feature on the road facilitating the tourists were the commuter – friendly electric rickshaws.
Kick starting our journey by the auto rickshaws which were commonly spotted in flocks in the camp area and comfortable for a local tour, we proceeded to witness a closer experience of the prism of Jaipur’s segmented local life.
Connecting us to these multifarious sections of the old city and the new was a most frequently traversed road called the M.I. Road.
So we were on this broad avenue reflecting a colonial prominence in its buildings’ architecture which had a confluence with the occupation of modern tag-lined western and Indian high branded outlets, stores and restaurants. With a very distinct image in an off white-tone painted buildings and old-styled arcades this transient zone added a chapter to our visual reading of the historical backdrop of the phases of development of the city. From a part functionally planned as the initial transportation hub the road network began to emerge and branch out .
M.I. Road was markedly punctuated by several landmarks like Rajasthali emporium, Sanganeri Gate, Raj Mandir cinema, GPO and other such crossroads which in some sculptural gesture or architectural adornment accentuated the heritage affluence of Jaipur and highlighted the spatial junction, a celebrated agglomeration of all the circulation lines meeting at a number of points.
It appeared strongly elite in its sensibility and ethnicity, and unaltered and preserved in its core entity for the life-gushing rush of its people because of a reason that it was strategically designed to connect to all the major roads from other areas. For us, what awarded M.I. Road the epithet, so-called ‘heart of Jaipur’ was its structural placement in the commercial centre, performing a dual centrifugal/-petal role of an axis, dissecting and contrarily also connecting the early and the new; two microcosms within a city. This overtly directional linear road read as a clear bold line in our mental sketch of the city map, with chance discoveries of humble openings/gateways to old havelis, now local residences and temples. New Gate like others on this road length (Ajmeri, Sanganeri etc), was embellished with floral motifs and beautiful paintings in white over pink plaster and its three arch-openings as large peepholes gave us a tempting glimpse of the threshold of a continuing pink hue of the bazaar (aptly called Choura Rasta , meaning broad way) in perspective.
But we were appalled by the immediate context of this beautiful gateway which was piled with heaps of dump, trash and was an unmanaged open urinating spot. It begged the question – How sensitive and inherently possessive, the locals are towards the valuable living heritage? Has it just boiled to a symbolic selling asset of tourism for the city or is it the ignorant laxity of the people and the municipal authorities to oversee the deterioration of the city as whole?As for the first cue on our mental map, the signage on the gate read that we would find Jantar Mantar, City Palace and Hawa Mahal wayward. (ironically in our favor, we did not by chance carry a physical map. So we were instinctively joining the dots of unique parts with the commons to create our own abstract and amorphous doodle of Jaipur – which we later ecstatically pin pointed on the physical one. Well, it was quite a game of accuracy!)
Jumping (to that part of journey) directly to the Tripolia Bazaar, tucked in between Chhoti Chaupar and Manak Chowk, famous for displaying a wide range of brassware, ironware and carpets, we made our way to one of the rooftops to have a wider sight of view, wanting a change from the regularities of the micro-level activities of the roads. What met our eyes was a profound stitched fabric of varying landscapes.A natural back laid profile of the hillocks of Nahargarh fort, fronted by the magnificent building of Hawa Mahal, outlined closest to the plaza with the elevation of metro-station construction machineries and barricades. Futuristic over traditional over natural – a mind tickling abstraction of reading the city on the most accessible macro scale. This view astounded us with the thought from the Italo Calvino’s imaginative masterpiece ‘The Invisible Cities’ – “With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” These many layers of viewpoints characterised the city for us. Leaving behind us Johari Bazaar (market of silver), we set ourselves down to this grand plaza called Badi Chaupad and began walking on the sensitively designed footpaths adjoining the shops of the road named after its famous monument Hawa Mahal Road. The uncontained/constricted view of the bazaar enthralled us so much that we could not help but stop at every new finding to take-in as much as we could, as keen tourists cum ‘city readers’ .
The intricately carved jalis of the windows, the elaborate/attentive motifs and features of the jharokas, uniquely standardised typographies in black over white background frames, the surprise entries to open courtyards from prominent gateways subtly breaking the monotony of the built, the diverse patterns of activities on the ground and the balconies above, all of these in entirety made this one bazaar, the must-visit for Jaipur’s checklist.The quirky mix of rickshaws, cars, elephants, bullock carts and others on the road which also offered a relief spot on its sides for hawkers, resting stray animals, groups of communities and parked cars, bicycles and motorcycles, had an unmatched charm for a multi-valent and inclusive existence like many old Indian cities.
We thought what kept the city tied despite its loosely arrayed elements was the austerity in maintaining a balance in the touristic-alignment of its commercial activity and the common living of day to day works.
The edges of these living spaces (with the busy ground floor shops and the residences on upper floors) are indicative of the indispensable symbiosis of the live~work existence of the settlement here. A keen walker (as a flâneur, what Sam Miller calls himself in his travel accounts of Delhi in Adventures in a megacity) would feel nothing short of euphoria to witness these innumerable types of chores taking turns and places of one another, from time to time, at these edges. What is probed to be the core of a traditional city, was from our experience a whirlpool of such cultural enigma here, in Jaipur.While we waited and watched him adjust the camera lens and develop the negative of our unusual-to the selfie times photo, we could sense a collective streak of excitement in the local preservers of his kind and other traders, shopkeepers, craft sellers and others of this population taking pride in keeping Jaipur unique for its public offering heritage.
And en-route our similar walks through other smaller bazaars, we recounted that although the richness of the built settlement with its minute details kept fluctuating on a graph of experience vs. architectural extravagance, what kept constant was this highly vibrant dailies of such people.
Torn out of this stock of stories’ mementos, is one serendipitous finding of a local legacy of a Polaroid camera. A family possession of an amicable man on public display on one of the nooks. The high spirit of this middle aged man who was passionate of an age old family occupation of keeping this asset functional, made us halt voluntarily to get ourselves photographed.
Trade from the above experiences highlighted as the tying thread to the city’s diversity, which has been manifested and adapted in different ways by individuals and state authorities to local bodies. Anchoring its sustenance on tourism, it had its outlet like Chokhidhani which expanded over years of growing state tourism from a small establishment to a grand hospitality chain with a group of hotels in many cities now. Chokhidhani is an example of revitalization of culture with all the specialties of Jaipur in one place capturing its vibrant spirit. And what is dynamic here is that the niche culture is made inclusive to be shared just at a cost of an entry ticket. Likewise, the city has offered opportunities to the local craftsmen through such a platform to display their long-retained art and to have a cherished employment. Brands like Anokhi boost the local make of contemporary ethnic trends. The block prints, floral designs, indigo-dyes, recycled material dyes, are locally manufactured in village settlement of Nahargarh, displayed in their local workshops and sold locally and in the bazaars of the city which are in turn also sold to high-end audience of affordability in these fashionable stores. This is how a cycle of dependence of trade seemed to run cohesively.
The city is aligning itself with the development needs of the time. Somewhere fitting itself with infrastructure, elsewhere struggling to stand-out in the pressurizing generalized ‘developed’ image. We see the ways are myriad, hidden under the compassionate intent of not losing the identity, that it colors itself pink wherever it can and saying it out loud that it’s Jaipur, laying under this exterior sheath, to be explored.Jaipur eptomises what Jane Jacobs had to say about great cities “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”