To say Jaipur was hot would be a gross misrepresentation of the weather in India's Pink City (the old part of Jaipur near Hawa Mahal gets a fresh coat of pink once every five years ). The heat was murderous and scarily still - as dry,unforgiving and hard as a hangman's breath. I had Kasab on my mind ( judgement day) and therefore the hangman reference. Very few people in Jaipur were aware of this momentous trial in Mumbai that was finally hurtling towards closure and a verdict after months of intense scrutiny. It was as if 26\11 had taken place in a distant galaxy or at any rate, some other planet. For me, it was hard to think of anything else, even as I greeted my hosts at the brand new airport ( glittering but essentially non-functional on a practical level) and tried to distract myself. I had several errands to accomplish and very little time. As always, I hit the road running and pretended not to notice the several stray cows which looked like they had passed out under the shadow of the gigantic neem trees that line Jaipur's main avenues. I was tempted to join the animals and grab a quick siesta myself.
But I had to check out the block printed shirts at Rashid's, enjoy the famous, creamy lassi with my friends at Tholia House, look for gifts at Ratan's, buy a hand stiched mulmul shirt ( made out of 500 count organic cotton grown in their own fields by the owners) for my son from Satayam's, grab a Thai salad at the Anokhi Cafe, and of course swoon over the exquisite jadau jewellery that is sold like vegetables or chana all over the city.
The surprise package this time included the dynamic ladies of Jaipur - yes - the same ones who not so long ago were expected to pull a ghungat over their faces and remain in purdah ( more or less) especially outside the protective environment of their havelis. Today, they are out there, running successful businesses, travelling all over the world, organising seminars and conferences, participating enthusiastically in community service, encouraging their daughters to study abroad and generally leading a full, action packed existence. All this transformation has taken place in a decade, and the wonderful part is that their men seem to approve! And so do their in- laws. I met a delightful, bubbly chiffon saree clad bahu, mother of three teenagers, who proudly showed off her piercings ( over her right eyebrow , under her lips )and distinct tattoos. This was some change...
Our flight back was delayed and further delayed. There was no water in the airport, nor any snacks ( or so my daughter complained ). But Vineet, the airport manager, more than made up for the lapses by his wit and charm. Plus, we had a royal co-passenger to keep us company in the lounge. Maharaja Gaj Singh from neighbouring Jodhpur pointed out the short sightedness of creating this huge airport but not allowing too many direct international flights into Jaipur ( visitors have to come via Delhi). There are no flights between Jodhpur and Jaipur either and one has to drive 5 hours to get from one city to the other. This is our premier tourist hub - but just look at the poor infrastructure and connectivity! Gaj Singh has successfully placed Jodhpur on the tourist map of the world almost single handedly - he has reason to be concerned. When we finally boarded our Jet Connect flight at some hideous hour ( there are zero flight options in the evening - it is this one to Mumbai, or the highway!), Gaj Singh had to travel cattle class like the rest ( no biz section in Connect), and buy his can of Pepsi , plus a chicken sandwich, again like the aam janata. It was good to note his comfort level and the fact that he made no effort to draw attention to himself even as some of his 'subjects' fell at his feet, bowed, scraped and grovelled to show their respect! A normal 'working class maharaja' - how refreshing is that!