Six Days in Jaipur

Posted by Carole - Guest Blogger 
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A note to the reader…

Either put the kettle on, make a drink and then sit and enjoy, or plan to come back later and read one section at a time!

Barefoot Gifts

Today’s Guest Blogger

I first met Helen when she and Colin were among the first strangers to stay with as in our guest house (Casa Susegad, Goa). Helen said, “You should be on Tripadvisor”. As our response was a blank “What?”, she said, “Leave it to me”… Before we knew what had happened we were listed with our first review in place. The rest, as they say, is history!

My advice to all who meet her is: if Helen begins a sentence with “You should/could…”, pay very careful attention to it as your life is likely to change imminently and, possibly, radically. Ours did, and we have since come to count her and Colin among our dearest friends. We love being part of the loosely synchronized support system for this superstar, vicariously enjoying her triumphs and challenges, acting as a sounding board for ever more ambitious plans, putting the kettle on or pouring a good old G&T (or two if it’s all going a bit Pete Tong!). Helen, I have watched as you see connections emerge between projects, people, products and possibilities and I salute the way in which you weave them all into magic! Of course, behind every successful woman is… and we sit in awe of the back-room technical support, research, guidance and encouragement from the inestimable Colin.

When Helen asked if I fancied a week in Jaipur I wasn’t about to refuse was I? I could be a fashion consultant… Couldn’t I?

~ Carole ~

A Parvez Special

No? Oh – OK!

Why Jaipur?

Our purpose in visiting Jaipur was two-fold (three if you count a little extra-curricular shopping…). We wanted to meet the brothers running the manufacturing facility that The Gallery at Cobblestone Walk has been using to date and also to look at projects of interest in the area, one of which had been strongly recommended to us. The time went by very quickly with barely a minute wasted! Often following our noses and finding absolute gems, other times listening to our driver or other parties, and finding that conflicting agendas were to be met ahead of ours (commission from big warehouses paid to drivers etc). Skipping over the less productive visits, there are some wonderful moments and newly formed relationships that we want to share.

Meeting The Brothers

Helen had met Parvez online – the modern meeting place for all kinds of new relationships. Nuances of speech, integrity in business dealings, wonderful quality and that certain X-factor led Helen to believe that this was no ordinary company. It was time for the face to face meeting.

Half an hour by rickshaw down crowded, dusty, winding back streets, or 40 minutes by manic main roads and taxi (we did both), we arrived at a very dilapidated looking building; no-one bothers with the unnecessary costs of painting exteriors in a hand to mouth economy.

We were met with big, open smiles, shining open hearts and a masterclass in customer-centred service. And the most delicious chai – without which it is impossible to conduct any meeting in Jaipur, business or otherwise.

The three brothers, Parvez, Raju and Javed, each take charge of different aspects of the business operation. They oversee all production from the hand block printing of beautiful cottons, to the design and manufacture of garments and other textile based goods. We met at their storage and distribution warehouse, into which they were just moving. They had given up their previous property to one of their Spanish customers who expressed a liking for the views; she now uses this other old building as her Jaipur office and apartment and the brothers moved simply to make her happy!

Parvez and his children

Parvez and his children

They guarantee not to use child labour and it was a delight to see Parvez’s children climbing and playing on the joyously coloured mountains of cottons and silks on our first visit there. Such a trove of treasures, all in glorious disarray, and we set to; looking at everything we could find, climbing barefoot over slippery slopes of silk and cotton, in order to source the very best ideas and designs for the Helping Elsewhere shop – The Gallery, in Cobblestone Walk, Steyning. Parcels were opened to exclamations of “Wow, look at this!”, new design ideas were discussed, samples ordered and the new season’s stock established. Steyning, you are in for a treat! Dresses, tunics, blouses, multitudes of trouser designs, iPad covers, bags for yoga mats and other little gems you will just have to come and see for yourselves.

The Creation of Block Print Textiles

We set off at 9.30 am from our hotel, the wonderfully stylish and good value Hotel Madhuban, with our rickshaw driver Ali. We were heading for the market areas, only to discover that nothing was open yet (10-11am is normal in these colder months). Ali, having clearly understood our thinking by now, suggested a little side visit to a factory he knows…

We were introduced to the owner, Atal, who was very evidently (and justifiably) proud of their facility and quite delighted to show us how his factory works. They are in their fifth generation in the same business, in the same building, which has a 500 year old temple within its walls. They employ 150 adult (only) staff, over half of which are at least the second generation in the company.

They create hand printed designs on beautiful cottons, using handmade blocks and natural dyes, also made on the premises. They also manufacture screen prints, beautifully finished garments and household linens. The pictures tell the story so much better than words.

The making of the print block

The making of the print block

Making dyes from natural products (in this instance cork)

Making dyes from natural products (in this instance cork)

Hand block printing

Hand block printing; the block is positioned by eye and always accurately

Washing and drying lengths of cloth after dying

Washing and drying lengths of cloth after dying

Cutting patterns in bulk

Cutting patterns in bulk and multiple sizes

Screen printing 50m lengths

Screen printing 50m lengths

After drinking the inevitable chai, we left with four iconic Jaipur quilts, to “see how they go”. If you want to be one of the lucky customers to buy one, watch out for the delivery! Helen and I were also personally tempted beyond resistance and left with one or two highly individual items for ourselves. We are a sight to behold, and sunglasses are recommended!

Helen in the factory shop

Helen in the factory shop

Helen and Atul on the rooftop of the factory

Helen and Atul on the rooftop of the factory, the fort in the background

Keerti and Tilonia

After two hours of dusty, noisy traffic, straight through the middle of barren plains and occasional tiny villages we finally turned off the highway, leaving traffic behind for the last few kilometres. Surrounded by scrub and thin trees, the flat roofed houses the same colour as the dusty earth with fabulously turbaned men and brilliantly clad women, their faces veiled; we are in Tilonia. Prone to both flooding and drought, life here is precarious. There are no fat people in Tilonia but there was an abundance of free smiles everywhere we went. One learns very quickly in India that there are many kinds of poverty. Often, it is the people with material plenty who have a paucity of spirit and, as we found in Tilonia, there are people of extraordinary spirit in the humblest of surroundings.

Tilonia Ladies
Tilonia Men

Tilonia Life

Keerti, our contact here, had been recommended by Sujata of Bookworm, Goa in typically understated fashion, as “someone we might like to meet while in Jaipur”. Quietly spoken, yet full of contagious enthusiasm for her literacy projects with these amazing villagers, Keerti had us in the palm of her hand from the outset. Originally from Delhi, and with an intellect and education that would earn her great wealth in a city career, she lives simply alongside the villagers when she is in Tilonia. Her heart and soul is dedicated to the education and welfare of some of the poorest people.

Helen and Keerti meet for the first time

Helen and Keerti meet for the first time

In an area where the minimum wage is perhaps rs200-300 (2-3 pounds) a day and home for many consists of one room with a dirt floor, witnessing such enthusiasm and joy everywhere we went was a humbling experience. Schooling has to be flexible in this environment. When it is seed planting time or harvest, and any child can perform tasks alongside the adults, and be paid accordingly, expecting them to go to school instead is futile. Food must come first. It is therefore often necessary to take education to the villages and run informal schools whenever and wherever there is opportunity. A blanket under a tree, a willing teacher, a handful of children and teaching and learning can fill a few spare hours. Apparently word spreads quickly at such times and the children just come!

The village school was beginning its day when we arrived, with the children assembled in the playground enjoying a rigorous workout to a song about loyalty to their country and culture.

School Assembly

School Assembly

With shared desks only available to the top class, the rest of the school began work cross-legged on rag rug covered classroom floors, or neatly spaced on the bare floor for an exam in a corridor. Using cardboard file covers to lean on, children worked away in small groups, each with a different activity. Helen and I were greeted with shy grins shining beneath twinkling eyes that peered, tentatively at first, between long, dark lashes. No desks, no blackboard, just a thirst for teaching and learning that is rare to see in our more ‘developed’ world. The children all get one hot meal of vegetables, pulses and rice daily. This is prepared each day by the lovely ladies with whom Helen shared a few digital photographs, much to their delight.

Attentiveness in School
School Facilities
Big Tilonia Smiles

Seeing so much enthusiasm, with so few resources, we were unable to resist talking to Keerti about the lifeboards – mobile desks that Helping Elsewhere had been able to support the supply of for a few Goan projects. These kidney-shaped, rigid platforms rest on the crossed legs of the child. One side is a desk, the other a thali (with indented spaces for food). They are hollow and take around 2 litres of clean water; a commodity that a frighteningly large percentage of the population cannot take for granted.

The life board, modelled by Benju

The life board, modelled by Benju

There has been much further communication between Helen and Keerti and they can use all the lifeboards we can fund. As they can be manufactured in Goa, and shipped to Rajasthan, for around 5 pounds each, we will be exploring the least intrusive ways to encourage anyone who can to add to the number of boards available.

Having been encouraged by the practical response she has received from Helping Elsewhere to date, Keerti is also offering the opportunity to help fund ongoing literacy projects in far more remote villages. Villages where people are living in circular mud huts with thatched roofs; where despite, I am sure, being extremely photogenic, life is truly hard. We would hope to visit these villages with Keerti on our next trip. If you would like to be involved in sponsoring a village literacy project, contact Helping Elsewhere for more information. The commitment would be around 300 pounds to set up each village project and around 1000 pounds per year to staff and run it. Sponsors would be working directly with Keerti and she would keep you well appraised of the progress your village makes.

And so the influence of good hearts that love to travel continues. If we can share just a little of our plenty directly with those that have great need, we really can change lives.

Tilonia Pupils

Tilonia Pupils

The Barefoot College

A few kilometres further on and we arrive at Barefoot College. The brainchild of the extraordinary philanthropist, Bunker Roy, I can only recommend a Google search to explore all you can about this inspirational man and this project. The college receives both national and international funding and acclaim, in addition to the private donations and volunteer support that are always welcome.

We spent a most enlightening afternoon there in the company of Ramniwas, most aptly referred to as The Communicator. His title sounded strange at first, but as the afternoon wore on it was clear that there was nothing else one could call him. With one of the most animated faces I have ever seen, he is the living embodiment of all that Bunker Roy holds dear. A Harijan by birth, he is an “untouchable” in Indian society; in his home village, for example, he is not even allowed to visit the barber for a shave. Here at the Barefoot College he is highly respected and holds the position of accountant as well as being The Communicator. One of his particular skills is with the use of puppets in getting messages across to rural communities. He gave us a sample of his skill before we stopped for a final chai – and we were mesmerized!

Ramnivas with myself and Helen

Ramnivas with myself and Helen

Ramnivas with puppets

Ramnivas with puppets

He epitomizes the ethos of Barefoot – we are all inherently equal. Our access to education and wealth is simply an accident of birth, a lottery. We all have enormous potential within us given the impetus and opportunity. Many of us lack the impetus, but many, many more lack the opportunity to truly shine. Ramniwas, and so many others touched by the vision of Bunker Roy, have truly become all that they are capable of being. The Communicator, in particular, shone like a beacon that challenged me to reassess my own contribution to the well-being of others. His very presence was so humble, yet remarkably powerful.

The primary work of the college is currently a solar power project, which is being rolled out across the poorest countries in the world. The criteria for joining the project – you must be female and illiterate! The empowering of the disenfranchised is at the heart of all that goes on in this remarkable place. Groups of six women arrive from whichever country has sent them. They spend six months at the college assembling solar lights – everything from creating the circuit boards to boxing up the finished product to take home with them. All of the assembly is colour coded, so literacy is no barrier. Once back in their home country, having assembled the units from scratch, maintenance is no problem. After mastering all of the different solar units and creating their supply to take home, students are encouraged to learn other skills during their time at the college. Making sanitary towels and sterilising them, creating toys and numbers out of discarded flip-flops, making wooden and paper models and toys, weaving rag rugs, the design and assembly of solar cookers – the list goes on and on…

Weaving rugs

Weaving rugs

Recycled flipflops

Recycled flipflops

Circuit board

Circuit board

Barefoot workshop

Barefoot workshop

Many of the craft products made here were on sale in their little shop and The Gallery can also look forward to some fabulous new stock from this wonderful source.

Walking Jaipur

It would have been remiss of us not to spend a little time enjoying Jaipur. In order to remind ourselves of the top end of the market in cottons and silks, and the (Indian) prices attached, we felt compelled to visit Anokhi – 3 times! In my defence, it was only at the last visit, on the way to the airport, when I found the shirt I had been looking for – for Norman, my lovely husband, who I had abandoned for the week. I even found matching boxer shorts, much to his delight! Although we DID have to have the little chat about trousers also being necessary, however good the shirt and boxers look!

We spent one marvellous evening walking the bazaars from just before dusk. We began at the big intersection Badi Chauper, crossing this extremely busy square to walk the roads that hold so much allure. Opposite the delightful Palace of the Winds, we are passed on, every four paces, between shops like a baton in a relay – “come and see my….”, “Same same T-shirt…” (as the one I am wearing), “only 50 rupees!”, and so on… We smiled our resistance and kept walking. Our smiles were returned, no hard feelings!

Crossing the traffic had its own particular adrenalin rush. No lanes, only motor rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, camel carts, bicycles, scooters, motorbikes, cars, buses and trucks all weaving an elaborately balletic tapestry, horns hooting continuously as we fragile pedestrians tried to see our own thread in the pattern, and make it safely through to the other side of the densely packed street. All safe and sound, and an obligatory pair of earrings later (my particular vice), we had a snack at the ubiquitous LMB café. Then it was time to cross back again to meet with our rickshaw driver, Ali. Helen made it safely across when I suddenly lost my road crossing mojo. Once that little seed of doubt crept in all I could see was the potential for harm; the safe route through the continuously moving vehicles simply disappeared. I stood there at the roadside, like a rabbit in the oncoming headlights, trying to feel again the rhythm that would let me cross safely to the other side. To complete my embarrassment, a tiny, wizened, moustachioed gentleman of about 120 took my hand, paused for half a beat, then threaded the two of us to the other side, where we joined Helen who was laughing hysterically. I was assured that the puddle at her feet had been there already…

Back at the Hotel Madhuban we rewarded ourselves with the products of a little judicious pre-planning. It was 9 pm and time to enjoy the ultimate girlie night in – James Spader (Boston Legal), a large G&T with ice AND lemon (all carried from Goa) and a few local artisanal chocolates…

On our last day, Sunday, we decided to walk the back streets, away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy main streets. We set off early – it was at least an hour before any shops, or other businesses, were due to open. Thus we saw the city awaken with folks out enjoying the early sunshine with their newspapers, dogs, cows and friends. As we ventured further into the tiny lanes, magnificent, yet crumbling, buildings and garbage all around, we began to feel a very different rhythm to the City. Smiling faces peered out of upper floor windows, children posed for photographs, and chai shops and other eateries sprang like mushrooms every few paces on some streets. We stopped to admire the heavy hammer work that was crushing toasted sesame seeds onto a bare floor, making sheets of the sticky powder that resulted. We were offered a taste and couldn’t resist; my word – what deliciousness! Later, we stopped to watch another man making a confection of milk stirred until it set in bubbling sugar syrup, then lifted out to ‘dry’. He had something else that looked like shredded wheat that was also soaked in syrup. We treated ourselves to one of each confection. The resulting sugar rush powered us on for many more hours than we had originally intended and we wouldn’t have missed a moment of it! We saw hand fed cows outside the sweet shop (for which they provided the milk), puppies and goats everywhere, more cows, everywhere, smiling warm people and ribbon shops and silver shops that proved utterly irresistible with prices we found hard to believe away from the more touristy places. There was never any sense of menace or danger; it was simply an enchanting day!

Jaipur walking 1
Jaipur walking 2
Jaipur walking 3
Jaipur walking 4
 
Doorways to another life 1
Doorways to another life 2
Doorways to another life 3
 
Barbers and sugar

Waiting for a haircut… before the sugar rush!

Sesame Street

Sesame Street

Feeding the cow

Feeding the cow who provides the milk outside the shop where the milk sweets get sold…

Jus Chillin

Jus’ Chillin’

Hard work for the driver

Hard work for the driver

Faded Beauty

Faded Beauty

Watching me watching you

Watching me watching you

Dining

In addition to the delightful LMB (Johari Bazzar) mentioned earlier, serving all kinds of vegetarian food behind the famous sweet shop, we ate at a wide variety of places, some more memorable than others.

In short, the restaurant at the Diggi Palace is instantly forgettable; overpriced, distinctly average food and a rather weird lack of atmosphere.

For a wonderful treat night we can recommend the Samode Haveli – great food, beautifully served, in a fabulous atmosphere; do sneak a look at the pool area if you can, and dream…

The food at our hotel, The Madhuban, where we ate a few times, was excellent. Although the dining room is a little utilitarian we enjoyed the food very much and it was very reasonably priced.

By far our favourite eatery was on the way back from visiting Parvez and his brothers. The Khandelwal Pavitra Bhojnalaya (or KPB as we, the vernacularly challenged, like to call it) has to be our out and out winner. Set back next to a busy junction, we ate there twice in the scruffy, yet somehow still welcoming, ambiance. Faded blue formica tables, cleaned continuously with a swift swipe of the ever present damp cloth (which itself had clearly seen better days), a simple smiled greeting and good wholesome food, simply served to a continuously changing scene of local conviviality. Grime was fixed into the seams of the bench seats from years of satisfied diners. Yet somehow it all appeared to be quite sanitary. You eat with your hands and your heart here, although (as the weird white people) we were made extremely welcome and offered teaspoons! We washed our hands at the sink provided before eating – the most likely germs to do damage are those we carry with us on our hands – concentrating upon the clean water ensuing from the spout, and ignoring the slightly less salubrious surroundings. We enjoyed a veritable feast for only a few rupees, finishing with the inevitable glass of chai. On our second visit we decided to try the gobi (cauliflower) paratha, (one each!) which we heartily recommend and which complemented the Alu Mutter (potato with peas) and channa (chick pea) masala beautifully. Happy, happy tummies!

KPB – simply the best!

KPB – simply the best!

And finally…

It is clear that this visit heralds the beginning of a new relationship with Rajasthan. The supply of goods for sale has been reinforced and taken to a new level, with so much more potential to develop. It only seems right that, alongside this plentiful cornucopia of goodies we also found another opportunity, or two, for giving back. For the time being the relationships with Parvez and his brothers, and Keerti in Tilonia, will be the focus of the growing Helping Elsewhere family outside of Goa, where it all began and still continues to flourish.

 

One Response to “Six Days in Jaipur”

  1. daniele noel roux says, March 6th, 2014 at 11:16

    How wonderfull. you made me dream, but reallity gets you and gets stronger than dream. and you both know what I mean by that.
    Thank you.
    And you know, that I will always be with you for helpind elswhere.

    daniele Noel Roux

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