I follow the fine example of Truman Capote when it comes to writing: I avoid it for as long as possible, I find all sorts of excuses for not sitting down at a desk. Call it writer’s block or just plain laziness. Towards the end of his all-too-brief life, Capote was more famous for partying than for anything he put down on paper. Well, for six months, I was still struggling with the first paragraph of my second novel when the call came to spend three nights in Jodhpur in a five-star hotel, all expenses paid. How could a man possibly resist?
We will booze under the stars on the ramparts of the old fort, I was told, there will be cigars from Havana and dancers from Spain. The invitation was from the lovely Chanda Chaudhary Barrai, clearly a miracle worker, who instructed me to bring along my black-tie outfit for the maharaja’s grand gala on the closing night. I ignored the advice of friends who suggested that I also pack a box of condoms. A box? For heaven’s sake, it was only a three-night junket!
Flamenco and Folk Tunes
The festivities took place at the Mehrangarh fort in the middle of the old town. The imprints of cannonball hits by invading armies on the massive fifteenth-century structure are still visible and indicate that the place has earned its keep. Surely, this has to be the most magnificent fort in all of Rajasthan. And yes, it belongs to the maharaja, not the government of India, and that is probably why it is so well maintained.
The noble purpose of our weekend was to witness a collaboration of the best of flamenco and Rajasthani folk music. This kind of fusion is something one would expect from William Dalrymple as part of the evening entertainment at the Jaipur fest. But guess what, the idea is not as barmy as it might first seem.
Flamenco, for the uninitiated, is quintessentially Spanish and involves a combination of singing, the guitar and intricate dancing with clap of hands and fast footwork. The music has Indian roots; it was transported to Europe by our banjaras. But more on that later.
The musicians from both continents proved worthy of the occasion. Queen Harish from Jaisalmer twirled in her splendid ghaghra with unflagging grace around Tamar Gonzalez and Karen Lugo, the two stomping, slender Spaniards from Madrid who matched her exuberance. While the piano and the guitars brought in softer, more reflective moments, our artistes brought the audience to its feet with their robust singing and the magical sounds of their tablas, sarangis and flutes. It was a heady mix of two musical traditions with a common ancestry.
If I may add, the cigars were free at the midnight party. I am not a smoker but I gave one a puff or two. It did nothing for me. It is an overrated indulgence. I resisted the temptation to steal a couple for my friend Jug Suraiya who is passionate about them.
The Banjara Trajectory
The banjaras migrated to Europe from northern India more than a thousand years ago, long before the Punjabis settled in Southall and the Gujaratis in Wembley. Now they are widely known as Gypsies—or the Romani—and their spoken language still has traces of archaic Hindi. But they have not assimilated, something which has caused great distress throughout the continent. Rightly or wrongly, they are often associated with crime and their nomadic lifestyle creates a problem for others.
Recently, the French government forcibly—and controversially—repatriated thousands of them back to Romania and Bulgaria when they turned up in droves after the two East European countries joined the European Union. The Gypsies were back in Paris and Marseilles within days since the borders are open to all EU citizens.
Our Gift to the World
The fourth Earl of Sandwich will find a place in history for inventing the sandwich. He was playing cards and did not have his hands free for a fork and knife. He told his butler, the legend goes, to put the meat between two slices of bread. Jodhpurs, those long pants that are loose to the calf and snug rest of the way to the ankle, are the sartorial contribution to the world from this desert city.
Sir Pratap Singh, the second son of the maharaja, wore them when he went to England in 1897 and it caused a sensation in the fashion circles of London. The Brits now call them breeches and use them primarily for horse-riding. Its popularity as daywear has diminished over the years, perhaps due to the fact that Nazi Germany made it part of the military uniform of its staff officers.
The only person wearing a jodhpur in Jodhpur was the cultural attache of the Spanish embassy. The maharaja himself preferred a churidar, the inspiration for Jodhpur!
Delhi-based Bhaichand Patel is the author of Mothers, Lovers & Other Strangers; E-mail your diarist: bhaichandp AT gmail.com