A love letter to Jaipur

As I sit down to write this piece, in a hotel room in Jaipur, March is ending, the pandemic is retreating, and India is opening up.

Published: 03rd April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2022 07:50 PM   |  A+A-

As I sit down to write this piece, in a hotel room in Jaipur, March is ending, the pandemic is retreating, and India is opening up. Elsewhere in the world, there is Covid and war, but for us—here, now—we are learning to exhale. 

So, Jaipur. 

In mid-March, I had come to the literary festival. Like all things these days, it was hybrid, with many authors choosing to speak online. But the part of it that was in-person, #IRL as millennials would say, was as close to the original format as it could possibly be in these treacherous times. (The location had to be changed from Diggi Palace because of government regulation, and Omicron ensured that mellow January gave way to unseasonably hot March.) Even so, Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was a blaze of colour and music and crowds and books, and after initial doubts (“Do I mask up inside the author’s lounge? How will Ranjit Hoskote know I am smiling at him?”), I got into the swing of things. By which I mean, I became one with #MyCrowd—authors who held forth, glass of wine in hand, on their terrible struggles; editors, who held forth, glass of wine in hand, on the decline of literary publishing in India; journalists who held forth, glass of wine in hand, on the pandemic novel in India.

“So THIS is what it feels like to be alive,” I said to my husband on the phone, after the Writers’ Ball.
S was in Delhi, in his study at home, trying to finish his book. He’d stayed back, as he liked to joke, because too many of his editors were at JLF. He grunted.

After I returned home, I said to him, apropos of nothing, “Let’s go to Jaipur. You can write there.”
He didn’t say, “You’ve just come back, the hills would be more appropriate, it’s going to be hot. What’s the point if we just stay indoors in Jaipur and work?”

He knew what I meant, he got us a reservation.

The first time we had come to Jaipur, we were in our early twenties, still in university. We had carried our (recently issued) marriage certificate in a clear file. It was late-August, our first holiday together, too modest to be called a honeymoon. 

The forts were vivid against the blue-blue skies, the bazaars in the pink city were full of pretty—meena-work jhumkas and mirrored jholas and leheriya dupattas—I did not buy. We could only afford a token few trinkets for friends, and for ourselves, I remember stretching the budget to buy a pair of pink puppets from a hawker near Hawa Mahal, a-husband-and-a-wife I liked to think, a concept still new enough to be tantalizing.

The afternoons were hot.We retreated into the many museums, going over the different periods of Jaipur’s history with interest. (Though naturally, we reserved a very high-minded disdain for the former princely states that had colluded with the British.) But in those large hushed rooms, full of grand things, we allowed ourselves to feel light-headed and grown-up and bittersweetly happy. Somewhere between crying in the hotel and holding hands in Jantar Mantar and eating half-meals in little hotels, ever afraid the card would be declined, the city insinuated itself into our very beings. We fell into a complicated love affair with Jaipur—complicated because, like its tangled history, in our memories it would always be associated with the beginning of our life together, infinitely tender, but also, equally, impossibly difficult.

*Between these two trips, there is a gap of a decade-and-a-half. In that time, we fell into the habit of travelling westwards from Delhi to Jaipur whenever we could. 

Often, we do nothing touristy in Jaipur at all. We bring bags full of books, check ourselves into a hotel, and try to write during the day. In the evenings, as the heat of the day gives way to a sweet evening breeze, we walk in the neighbourhood to find value-for-money eateries.

I sometimes wonder WHY we come to this city so often? 

Do all couples have one place in the world to which they return repeatedly—away from their home-towns and all the attendant baggage, away from new places where there is some pressure to engage with its bounties, away, of course, from where they live? Those who can afford to, build homes away from home—but I definitely don’t mean those. 

In Jaipur, we have no permanent ties. Except for the ethereal palimpsest of our emotional selves, there is no record of us here anywhere.

And yet, it is here that we find vital traces of ourselves together—happy, unhappy, failing, bantering—perfectly preserved, in street corners and rooftops, temple courtyards and flower-markets. Paradoxically, it is here that we must return, time and again, pandemic or not, to make ourselves whole again.

Devapriya Roy

roydevapriya@gmail.com 

Author and teacher; her latest book is Friends from College



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