My parents came to visit me in Mumbai, to see where I live and what my life looks like. They stayed downtown in Colaba, where most of the touristy stuff is – the old downtown area. Immediately they noticed that Mumbai is LOUD and smelly and full of crows.
They did the (limited) sightseeing that Mumbai has to offer – not much because it is a ‘new’ city with a big melting pot soul and a financial district mind. It does not have a history of caring what it looks like, really, at least from what I can tell. It has been throwing itself together in an increasingly haphazard way. I’ve gotten (somewhat) used to how little sense it makes, and had started to think that the rest of India might just have a similar mindset. It does not!
Having a lovely long weekend off from school, my parents and I left town for Jaipur and Agra – the traditional tourist destinations, named (when Delhi is included) the Golden Triangle.
Maharaja Jai Singh II founded Jaipur during the Mughal age. Learning this was my first glimpse at what I began to label “The Will of the Emperor” in my mind. Everything we saw in (Old) Jaipur was there because the Maharaja said it should be. The city, its color, its organization, the fort, the palace… It is easy to believe that the trees grew there because the Maharaja willed them to. As we walked through the forts and marveled at the intricacy of marble and inlaid stonework and the symmetry I couldn’t help but be awed.Any time I asked “Why is this like this?” the answer was just a simple, “Because the Maharaja wanted it to be.” What a crazy world to have lived in.
I’ve been to a lot of palaces in the western world, and knowing that the ones in Jaipur aren’t even that well maintained compared to the ones in Udaipur and Jodphur absolutely blows my mind. The marble work, the inlay, the paintings on the walls, the carvings, the silver-backed glass mirrors, perfectly symmetrical gardens… it’s so immaculate and speaks such volumes about the craftsmanship people are capable of.
What really caught me was the women though. One Maharani’s sari is on display in the palace – it has so much gold decorating it that it weighs 10kg. It is so heavy that she didn’t walk in it, and had to be carried in a chair to the occasion. Her face was hidden behind her silk for the whole event.
The trend of women hidden behind beautiful things was reinforced by the building of a façade purely for the women to walk from one palace to another to view the court happenings from behind 2-inch marble honeycomb screens. The lives of these Maharanis – staying in their courts, surrounded only by their servants, each other and eunuchs, unless their husband chooses to visit them. They were surrounded by beauty and gold, and entrapped by it to the extent that they could not even walk in it. Who could envy a life like that? I wonder how long it took for the women to become frustrated, if they ever did. When did the gold tarnish for them? Trapped inside these walls, inside their gardens, between the marble and silk; I know I wouldn’t have lasted long before I’d have gone insane.