THE JAIPUR COMMUTE

We have fallen into the routine of a daily commute. (Have a look at our Jaipur commute video here: Jaipur Commute )  As far as the frustration of commutes goes, it has its own peculiarities. We are staying in a part of Jaipur called Bani Park (pronounced “Bunny Park”, a name I enjoy saying to taxi drivers since it conjures a cutesy twitchy-nose frolicky meadow completely at odds with the environment we are invariably in). The merchant we deal with, Kishor, is on the other side of town at Zowahar Singh Gate, a journey that involves a diagonal traverse of the old walled city. It’s much too far to walk, a lot of it is along wide noisy, dusty arteries, where the sight of a foreigner on foot is so unusual that the auto and cycle rickshaws really can’t believe you don’t want their services, and follow beside you shouting or honking.

There are usually a couple of auto rickshaws outside our hotel. (For those of you unfamiliar with “autos”, they are the three-wheeled urban transportation workhorse, run- mainly- on natural gas and faith). The drivers always try to solicit us, but they expect far more then the going rate and it’s pointless to engage them. Instead we have to walk a couple blocks out to where the regular drivers work, flag an auto down and establish the price. We do this every day, but the drivers don’t know that, and they often start out fishing for two or three times the fare. I don’t argue, just walk away, and either flag someone else or, more commonly, the driver knows it’s a good deal and beckons us in with a waggle of the head. I then re-establish the price, in two languages, and we are off.

The problem with going to work in an auto is that they are so compact that my head is hunched against the vinyl ceiling. Where there aren’t potholes there are speed bumps, and it’s a jarring ride. It also prevents me from seeing much more then the pavement, and my landscape is a flurry of cyclists flailing feet, the knee caps of street cattle, and giant treadless bus tires. I know where we are by the shape of walls, and the patterns of merging traffic. There are a number of different routes depending on a driver’s preference, but they all end up at Chandra Pol, the “Gate of the Moon” , on the east side of the old city. It is, literally, a fortress gate, and traffic bottlenecks trying to get through its arches. Accidents aren’t avoided here by inches, but millimeters. And yet, with much horn honking, the congestion goes through the gate with the inevitably of water down a drain.

Jaipur was once – and may be again one day – one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was laid out and built in the 18th C. in a grid around the royal palace, bisected by wide boulevards lined with colonnaded stone buildings all of the same characteristic pink sandstone. The last sixty years have not been kind to Jaipur. The expense accounts of the Maharajas have dried up; a modern population is served by a medieval sewage system; pollution and congestion choke the grand avenues. Even so, crossing the old city is a wondrous experience. The guild system that was introduced when the city was built is still fairly much in place, and we pass through the markets of the sandal makers and the coppersmiths, the cloth merchants and the jewelers. Often we go past the intricate façade of the Hawa Mahal the “Palace of the Wind”, so called because the ladies of the palace – who weren’t allowed to go out in public – watched the goings on of the street through the stone lattice, benefiting also from the channeling of the cooling breezes.

We are in Jaipur mainly for the cotton bedding we get made here. Those of you familiar with our store have already seen the Moghal hand block prints (they are the “high- art”: precisely done palm tree and floral pattern) and the Bagrus (the “village-tradition” resist-dyed, more robust designs). This year we are also buying for the first time screen prints. We had a bias against screen prints as mass-produced, and too mechanical. However, the price is right, and we decided to take a trip to the workshops where the prints are made, to check it out. On the outskirts of Jaipur is Sanganeer, where the block printing comes from, and on the outskirts of Sanganeer we are taken to see Amir. Amir runs a small screen printing operation. Like the block printing operation the workshop has long tables on which the cotton is laid out.  A wax layer coats the tables, and a man “skates” along the top of the cotton to smooth out any wrinkles. The screen itself is operated by two men who expertly lay it in place, drag the applicator back and forth across it, and then lift it and place it further done the bolt. Like the blocks, each colour has a different screen, which is applied on top of the last one. For our “Tropical” quilts, an amazing ten screens are used. There is no power machinery used in the entire process.

The hand block prints, of course are something else. We make the trip out to the Sanganeer workshop several times, since we are trying to design a pattern that works on a coloured background. The blue that we tried isn’t successful, but are thrilled with our classic “Palm tree” on a tea-stained cotton. It’s a lot of fun and a learning experience going through the process with “Master-ji”, and his assistants. It’s an art that works very well on video, and you can see the craft being done here: Hand block printing in Sanganeer.

We apologize for falling a little behind on the blog updates.  There have been some technical problems, and the usual lack of good high-speed connections.  If you want to get an advance look at some of the things we are seeing (and will soon be writing about, go to our home page http://www.kebeandfast.com and click flickr.  For more videos go to youtube, and type kebeandfast into the search.  It’s like being there in the auto with us!

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