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Monday, November 28, 2011

Jaipur, an Introduction

Before I launch into the show and tell, I have to say that if I'd had more time, I would have stayed longer in Jaipur and Rasasthan, in general. Jaipur is remarkable for a lot of different reasons, as is the state of Rajasthan; it could be the history, the architecture, the arts, the handicrafts, the people, the relatively lighter traffic. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even scratch the surface.

Essentially, I settled on the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar (the Observatory), an elephant ride and the Light and Sound show at the Amber Fort, mostly because there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from. I was fortunate to check out a purveyor of fabrics who showed me the block-printing techniques on some of the shawls and saris as well as examples of some amazing fabrics.

Seriously, I would go back in a heartbeat and spend more time in Jaipur proper and then that much more in the region. I doubt I'll be able to convey much of what I saw, but I think there's enough here to get an idea. I do want to give a quick reprise of Jaipur history before launching into this because the history is so tied into the contemporary scene, more so than what I saw in Delhi.

I'll try to not make this into too much of a history lessong, but it's important to bear in mind the contributions the Moghals made to the region, the interstices of religion, the arts and statecraft that have come to make the region so vital. As Ram pointed out, the Rajasthani people are very hard working and very (rightly so) proud of their heritage.

Water supply has historically been and continues to be a major problem in the region and while the arts and crafts for which the region is known continue to thrive, there is a drain on the workforce as Rajasthanis move to other parts of India to find work (including Kangra/McLeod Ganj/Dharamshala).

Apparently, the Indian government is looking into solutions for abetting improved irrigation and/or transport for Rajasthan's water supply, but this is only one aspect of difficulty that the region needs addressed. Like much of the rest of India, there is a sizable population that lives at a subsistence level. I haven't reviewed the stats, but one thing that seems heartening is that the kind of poverty I saw in Delhi didn't seem quite as prevalent or at least, didn't manifest itself in the same way. This is very much a matter of degree and kind, I suspect.

By and large, I didn't sense the same disparity or social pressure of class division in Jaipur as I did in Delhi, but this could be completely illusory since, let's face it, all I saw was geared for the tourist, although my elephant driver alludied to bearly scraping by and not seeing much of a chance to improve his life. In fact, if there was a persistent theme from people I spoke to, it was a profound feeling of not being able to rise above one's station (again, my drive Ram was very straightforward about that; hence, his desire to come to the U.S.)

Interestingly, I haven't had to raise these issues; they arise organically out of the course of a conversation, as people want to know more about what living in the U.S. of A. is like. Some still see it as a land of golden opportunity while others seem to have a more rational sense of proportion about it. In either instance, there is a palpable feeling that the 99% in India would very much like their lot to be a bit brighter or more flexible.

That last might be the key. Flexibility in social adaptation is the cornerstone, I think, to a heathy society. If that's not there, the degree of division between the haves and have-nots is going to be much greater and this is why it's important for both Europe and the States to bear in mind that movements like OWS aren't about “dirty hippies” mouthing off; these movements are about whole populations recognizing that that flexibility is vanishing. I think what started with the “Arab Spring” is almost the same as what has generated the OWS and it's interesting to see that kind of social movement is circling the globe. I don't know what form it's taking here in India, if any, but reading the media here is telling in that the papers seem to report routinely on routine corruption in the government and that no one seems to be too keen on knowing quite how to address the problem directly.

State by state, I've been reading a lot of reports about official abuse, crimes that go unprosecuted if not univestigated and what I find an intriguing counterpoint will be notices posted here and there about addressing this or that issue. These come from locally established groups and one imagines, without support of state or national support.

I mention all this to provide a kind of context, not just for this current post about Jaipur but as a kind of background for much of what I see throughout the country. I think I'll have to do some more online research before I can draw any conclusion about relationships between the different movements we're seeing sprouting up here and there, but these too can provide a relational perspective (I think) with what I'm seeing here.

My main advice in looking at what I'm posting is to click on links and do some quick reading just to get aquainted with what I'm not explicitly writing. I really do think I'll have to take some serious time to digest all this and give it a more coherent form later, probably sans pictures! I mean, let's face it, this is more of a travel blog for friends and family and less a sociopolitical essay on this history and economics of the Indian subcontinent. Still, I don't want people to just look at pretty pictures divorced from some of the deeper elements that go to characterizing and colouring the diversity and (I know I use the word a lot, but it's so apt) richness of the populations that make up India.

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