CityScripts : JODHPUR

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A week long city-hopping across Rajasthan has brought me to Jodhpur, a city of its own. From the narrow lanes to towering Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur has left me with deep impressions. Throughout the travel, my friend was giving the best shots to shake off my morning blahs, but in vain. It takes time for me to break into the day and take forms of pleasantries for the outside world. Maybe this is why friends observe me as an evening person. Well, I think I am my own person, remote and shut for mornings and open and chilled for evenings. That’s a weird way to describe everyday life; it’s like slicing down my world into chambers of day and night. No one can function that way!

The view of the blue city from the fort turns out beautiful when complimented by shades of the sky. And like anywhere else the fort museum failed to amuse me. Our museums really need to start telling us stories than putting histories on display. I would rather walk miles around the ghats in Pushkar, than staring miserably at riches of some royal family and shuffling from glass case to glass case! But then, those tiny colourful window panes, winding metal stairways and those heavy windows protruding from walls never fail to catch my glance. I have got a thing with windows, there is no single time I never wanted to stare away through one. Well, got to agree with J. Kintz that a window is indeed more entertaining than TV!

The walk up and down the lanes of the blue city is one thing which will always stay in my Rajasthan diaries. Gallis like these reminds me of how possible it is to stay close and never connect (excuse the random reflections from own-world!), but what is the fun in seeing what everyone see. We couldn’t spot many local people in gallis. I should come back one day just to watch how days pass in those narrow lanes. Maybe they have a different concept of home. Maybe not for everyone home is a feeling. Maybe for my blue city dwellers home is just a stone wall, a place to eat and sleep. Passing by most of the dwelling I didn’t feel they stay at home all day, holds true even for women. Unlike many ladies back my place, they aren’t at least home guards all their life. Towards the north and west of our country I have seen more women out on the street, earning a living, engaging more in public spaces, than in the south. At most of the places we visited the folk singers were families, mostly a man, the lady and kid. And come on, I am not here for any ethnography, so this vent may or may not be certain, but this is how mind travels the way foot takes it.

One reason there weren’t many people in gallis was the eid-i-milad procession. I have only read on papers about how grand these processions are in north and west of India. Seeing these different milad celebrations, I wondered back at home we don’t even come close to their decibels! Songs praising Prophet Mohammed remixed with trance!!! What do one call this? Cultural fusing? One can write a lot about the political and spiritual correctness of these events. But who are we talking about? Who are we to impose our lens and perspectives to view a practice completely new and strange to us? Isn’t it very easy to label them as ‘shirk’ (idolatry) and allege ‘their Islam is different’? Isn’t the real effort in contextualising practices and experiences than always trying to weighing it against your beliefs?

The best moment in Jodhpur was not about this city, it was about another place, miles and miles away. Lost in the shades of Umaid Bhavan I knew I have had enough of these blue and pink cities, and it was time to catch some snow covered mountains in a bright full moon night. Next day in Jaipur I was rushing to catch my train to the first ever city I fell for three years back. To gaze at your bits of winter in Gulmarg, to feel the pale chinar and fading autumn, I was on the move again…

Here Is A #Mumbai

Here is a city that messes around like a home; that lets you get under its skin, into its secret sanctuaries. A city so drenched in infatuated love; an image for flights of fantasies, the mayhem of agony, indigence and ugliness. A city that worries you for all the joy it offers.A city of never demanded obeisance, but downright addictive indeed.

Belong to a city where local trains chase even the last bit of sunlight. Watch itself unfolding in both the sides of your compartment. Cheer the boys and girls, naked, soaked from head to toe from a fresh bath along the tracks. Look for the creased skin of hand in the handles above, wearing dark green bangles mostly, confused by pale gold ones in between. You might also find those glossy, second-copy watches they buy from Colaba causeway. Glance down for worn out shoes bought with all his passion from CST fashion street. Please stomach the smell of the fish that break through from Mahim station. It is the Koli woman sorting out fishes inside the luggage compartment. Do not miss the islands of green along the tracks of harbour line. No, do not give that boring amusement about spotting lush in this city. As having emerged from the sea, this city is so damn full of sensory overloads!

Retreat to a city that gives you the surprise of a sudden rain, the drama of suddenly darkened skies; to a city that rises when the sun sets. A city that wants you to slow down even at the heart of its busy bee-ness, to find your space and to own it selfishly. But don’t go mad when the 2 am police bang their lathis on the seawall to keep you on move from Marine drive, it is just a ritual. They don’t want you to leave. They want you to stay and take a lungful of the sea with you, so does the city!

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CityScripts : PUSHKAR

A visit to Ajmer is to be followed by one to Pushkar. They are like this customary sojourns part of a grand Indian pilgrimage circuit. Pushkar is one of this quaint town without any to-do list unless you are travelling for the extravagant annual camel fair. I was there for a respite from the wildness of my last destination. Leaving behind bare hills, scattered scrub bushes and settlements the local bus took me to a barren depot. What I could see was only earthy brown desert sand everywhere, for a moment it crossed my mind whether I ended up in an Arabian day (clearly not night) of Rajasthan sand dunes.

It didn’t take me long with my basic Hindi to reach a labyrinth of alleyways and passages, Pushkar. The pastel-hued pilgrimage town centred on its sacred ghats and enchanting lake welcome you incrementally. Little by little, it unfolds before you the true form and vigour. Before entering the bazaar which is indeed a riot of colours, you meet chador veiled women and turban clad men living in the neighbourhood making their pass into daily grinds. Passing pale blue local abodes, a bustling town slips in with full of narrow lanes heaving with shops, cafes and guesthouses. While you make your way through these lanes wondering how this little town is admired by folks coming for a pilgrimage to the ones on hippie trails, pass a smile to that darling from Israel enjoying his pie in a Floyd theme (Yes, Pink Floyd!) outdoor restaurant, but watch out for painted cows coming your way.

Towns like Pushkar breathes in life through ghats and the hundred of whitewashed temples in the bank. Any wonder it has 59 of them? Different ghats have different functions at different times of the day. If you take a walk along you can clearly see the transition from one use to another; from spiritual to civic; from pilgrims descending in the sacred water to dhobis at work; from lovers passing their lone time to sadhus seeking Hindu mysticism.

I retreated to be one among them. Sitting on the grey stones of ghats, next to a lady smoking pot, falling for the flights of pigeons making wheel and circle in the air, listening to the drums and chanting drifting across the water. Everyone’s on their own trip.

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…falling for the flights of pigeons making wheel and circle in the air..

CityScripts : AJMER

One of my favourite part about traveling is arriving in new cities after dark. How I love all those dramatic renderings of a nocturnal city about its habitual resistance for chime and harmony. Late evening arrivals are cold but vehement; confusing but pristine; even vulnerable but full of life. There is no homecoming, no welcoming smile, not even a flash of familiarity. But the character a city holds when its people walk free from their daily grind, makes it comforting than confining. You always get to have your way around at whatever pace and tone.

And that is how I broke into Ajmer. I stroll straight through Madar gate with ease to the cramped Purani Mandi. Treating to some local sweets, I am already friends with this ancient city. Straying down the back roads, staring at built environ, seeing lives spilling up and down the lanes, I make efforts to work on my sense of place. That night the 13th century Sufi shrine (dargah) which defined Ajmer for me felt elsewhere. The city was unfolding.

One needn’t have any sense of direction or go through an adventurous ritual of asking around to reach this shrine of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti. Even at an early hour of the day, I was taken to a huge red sandstone structure – the Nizam gate, by  stream of devotees threading through the bazaar, with no one tumbling down on each other, as if on a convention. Inside, it is not a very different world either. But the vibe inside is so rich that one could almost fail to notice the intricate carved walls, even if you were leaning back against it, yea I almost did! The forecourt in itself is a bandage of agony, serenity and celebration. You see men beating their head against stone railings, women getting to feet from their prostrations and then tying the holy threads of faith on Jannati Darwaza, families moving in groups celebrating their answered prayers and people swaying to and fro all around. For few moments, I did reproach myself about the point of my apparent purposelessness.

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Source: https://goo.gl/kzdjJB

Inside the mausoleum I had an interesting encounter with a cleric who helped me get near Kwaja Moinunddin Chisti’s crypt, who was disappointed to find I had no offerings to put on tomb but still tapped my head with a feather fan. I had to let him down again when I declined to bury my face in the sheets full of rose petals and kiss the tomb before directing me towards the exit gate. Brought up in a different islamic tradition contesting dargah worship I did have my own apprehensions. But then what is more islamic than the practice of cooking food for masses in those giant copper cauldrons inside Khwaja’s shrine  with supplies donated by visitors’ of the Gharib Nawaz, benefactor of the poor! Because more than the hazy swirl of incense smoke, the roses in sweet smelling punnets and qawwali players in the marble courtyards what appealed to me in Ajmer Sharif was how the idea of everyday lived Islam can be appreciated in spaces like these.

While it is fashionable to talk of the composite culture and cosmopolitan spirituality in relation to Ajmer, it is a least functioning city. From a city bearing the burden of an urban fantasy of becoming smart city, I am off to walk some labyrinthine lanes in Pushkar.

CityScripts : UDAIPUR

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How do we feel about a city when we are just about to reach there? What are our thoughts? How much does it resonate with the recent TripAdvisor advert that popped up on your screen which you couldn’t resist clicking? Or is it layered with your last search #udaipur in Instagram? Or is it the books you read, the characters, those lyrics from your favorite music that runs through you? 

Beyond my banal excitements, I always travel making and breaking assumptions, keeping tabs on learning and unlearning about people and places. But Udaipur, the city was very confusing for me. I couldn’t follow its beats, or, does it have one at all? Or is it just that cities tell different stories to different people? Beyond question, the city has its own quaint charm. With beautiful lakeside palaces, English gardens and terracotta bridges, it is perfectly designed for your suite dreams, but fortunately or unfortunately I have never had one. Or it might even help if you go gaga over destination weddings and marbled splendours all around Lake Pichola. But, I felt so resistant to the romantic imagination of the city.

After an all wound up, twisting road journey through the hills of the Aravalli range from Mount Abu, I arrived at an amber-lit late afternoon in Udaipur. Trying to recall the numbers in a temperature display board that flashed wayside, I thought over whether to keep the sweater for rest of the evening; also because Rajasthan winter was yet to ring a bell for me!

The touristy life-line in Udaipur runs around the Lake Pichola. Watching Pichola’s tranquil waters shimmering with reflections of grand palaces and designer hotels, I was already curious about the other side of the oldest lake in Udaipur. As the sky turned into pale mauve and birdies flew over to their island retreat, I slipped away to my rustic thoughts making a pass at falling for the fancy boat-ride.

Udaipur has always been an elite city in my imagination. But then, that is a convenient assumption to make about any city! Howbeit, Udaipur was yet to roll out in its full-on mix and blend for me. It was just the second day in the city I got a glimpse of elite existence here and there, except for the flamboyance of lofty palaces and hotels on the east bank of Lake Pichola which are also the fast held fixtures to the royal legacy. Like always, they have made themselves comfortably exclusive to the city. Look at the Monsoon palace, atop a hill, away from all the everyday nuisances of the city, stands the royal seasonal hideout- beyond all the laymen outcries. If it was the monarchs then, it’s the monied now.

Undoubtedly Pichola Lake is an offbeat beauty to Udaipur, may be the only thing this city can flaunt about. After all, how hard it tries to transcend itself to royal and glitzy, the lake cannot hide away from drips of hardships and suffering haunting its banks, on the other side!

A stroll through the City Palace would show you the already one-sided history of cities like Udaipur and how the power dynamics which once existed is reconstructed and made a marvel for the public.  Well, heritage spaces are emphatically valued, but why is it always the history of that particular ‘one’?

Indeed, this is a very pretty town, but I was neither shaken nor stirred of it.

 

Yes, The Same Communalism Shit!

‘Communalism’

I remember questioning the term sometime during high school, regarding its usage erred on the side of violence. Because nowhere in my childhood I have heard the stories of hostility between religions. No lessons were taught to me about this fumes, instead our textbooks had the illustrations of temples, mosques and churches. Though now I do question about this same curriculum which was predominantly occupied with mainstream perspectives, let me keep it aside for time being.

The idea which I earlier couldn’t absorb has now become very familiar and visible to me. No doubt, my first reaction upon the knowledge of the communal idiocy would have been of shock and disbelief. But since then there has been a processing worked out by the media, politics, local and national events, experiences, and thus goes on the list. Today I was watching this documentary on Al- Jazeera and felt very indifferent towards the ideas and message conveyed. Every single frame, every single faces which appeared and their woes and intimidation were familiar to me. In to my fool’s paradise where I questioned the validness and rationality of the idea of communalism, this very dampening phenomenon entered through the news of communal riots, both national and regional, and now it has caught up with me along the slices of my beef platter. It is everywhere now, I can see the ripples in ordinary experiences of  everyday life. It’s dreadful knowing that the reason behind cold stares at my hijab is not unfamiliarity to the culture, but uneasiness arising from intolerance towards the culture I represent. The implied conversation about hidden intentions of minorities to invade this nation through population explosion are no more strange to me. Giving shots to newer forms of venom by throwing up older ones, making use of sufferings of one community to afflict worse scourges on the other has become natural and acceptable at surprising levels. I am no more shocked to have confronting questions regarding Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,nations which I am no way related to. I have some how become indifferent to the nonsense that I am alien and predatory in my own country and therefore have to abide by the major.

One uneasiness I had while watching the documentary was about the fact that these frantic repercussions under the label of religious intolerance is no more a rare occurrence and that it has become so typic even for the victims. Normalization has become the new norm in case of communal violence. It has become an acceptable part of India’s contemporary political landscape. For instance, when issues like these come up for discussions in social media platforms where tweets, posts or articles brings in a reaction like ‘Oh, the same communalism shit, anything new?’. This normalization is indeed very much difference from acceptance. But remember, this is not the first time we are into this phenomenon of being at the cold end! We bear the scars of having normalized sexual violence, misbehavior to women in public spaces, even the heinous crime rape!

Before we reach the point of no return, we definitely have to take a flight back!