I find Lal Khan on my first morning in Jaipur – the watchman at my hotel hails Khan’s auto and we bargain. Sightseeing, I say, knowing no other word to describe ‘random roaming’ – he looks blank for a moment – I wave my hands helplessly and say, Hawa Mahal, Palace, Johri Bazaar… his eyes light up in comprehension – accha, sair-seeing, baitho .
He stops at several places unasked, feeling that I ought to use my camera more – he knows the best spots and insists I take photos from there and only from there. As it happens, so does my guide at the Hawa Mahal – he sees me pointing my camera at the facade at one spot and hustles me to another – “total symmetry here”.
Otherwise Lal Khan is careful, knowledgeable (mostly) – on the way to Amber fort, he points to a temple on top of a hill and says it is crowded during the annual Ganesha festival – “what you call Ganpati Bappa Morya in Bombay, we celebrate here as Ganesh Chaturvedi”. He is one nice old man, warning me every time I get off the rick, “be carefuls, madam”.
I love Jaipur – I realize it is one of my favourite cities in India. I take a walk through the markets one evening – the shopkeepers like it when you banter with them – one of them points to my earrings and says he will sell a similar one to me for just Rs.80 – and I say, I am already wearing this – why do I need one more pair? He laughs aloud and says – “chalo, aap free me le lo!” . And then the street food – everywhere, every kind of snack and chaat.
As in any other Indian city, it is interesting to people-watch and figure out where they are from – at Jantar Mantar, the Bengalis are arguing loudly about lunch, the Telugus are bored with the “same thing” and photograph their bratty children climbing on to the structures. Everywhere else, the Delhi couples saunter confidently, the newly-wed woman with her red chooda, svatters and high heels, taking pictures of her man on her phone camera as he poses at regular and frequent intervals. In front of the Hawa Mahal in the evenings, foreigners travel in hand rickshaws in a procession – the Japanese easily identified by their video camera in one hand and v symbol on the other.
Inside the city palace, my guide tells me the story of the 7 feet, 250 kg maharaja who ate 5 kg of jalebi and drank 5 litres of milk for breakfast everyday. His silk pyjama is on display and stretches across almost an entire wall; the group of teenagers point to it and giggle.
I want to giggle too then. Just because I am happy to be there then.