I had a driver bring me back to Jaipur as I could not face the train. I hated the journey full of hand painted trucks and lorries with black good luck tassels. The traffic was horrendous with drivers constantly switching lanes and road bumps even on the motorway every time there was a tollgate and a subsequent pile up of cars, lorries and trucks. I photographed the lorries and even saw a man hanging onto the back of the truck for dear life!
As luck would have it, the moment I entered the Chirmi Palace garden I met a pink vision with Glastonbury written on her face and astonishing attire. Yes I was right. She and her two daughters were delightful friendly hippy dippies from Glastonbury!
Enter Pinkie with her amazing talented twenty one year old daughter Romany. Pinkie, all dressed in haremesque clothes, was wearing her favourite colour rose pink. She comes every year to have her face injected with fat from her legs. This makes her look younger she claims. She told me she had been coming to India for twenty five years and could not live without India in her life. She had travelled round dragging Romany with her since she was a little girl. Back home she had an emporium for clothes and jewellery purchased from Pushkar. I had heard of the place being a destination for hippies and dropouts and that signs were in Hebrew for the multitude of Israelis who went for business, pot and pleasure. The schmatter trade in full force. A town full of tailors and wholesalers.
Romany was a graduate from the Gerry Cottle circus school and a trapeze artist as well as a belly and burlesque dancer. I watched her on You Tube. She is so accomplished. Angel her love child with an African, was of mixed race and permanently lost in her cyberspace world wearing headphones throughout at the dinner table oblivious to external conversation. What a pair. En route from Jaipur to Pushkar as they got a cheap online deal at Chirmi. 'Come!' they said. So I did! I will even return to pay a visit to them in Glastonbury where I once spent a strange Reiki weekend at the Challis Well years ago.
Next dawned the day of the Royal wedding. Well it turned out to be a Tika ceremony at the golden boy's father's hotel the Narayan Niwas Palace.
I wore my red and black kurta with matching scarf edged in gold to match the bottom edge of the garment. I wore my newly purchased Rolled gold silver necklace that looked the real business but of course was not. Mind you the replacement value back in London would be over £1,000. I had spent several hours with a gemologist and manufacturer who had the contract to make my dream jewellery. The words 'Elizabeth Gage' were like music to my ears and on the unplanned second visit to his showroom, I succumbed!
Madame wore a beautiful yellow sari with an ordinary matching little yellow bag inside which were 500Rs notes in a folded hanky but wearing the same old sandals she wore around the house. At least she had discarded her old cheap brown shoulder bag (that Pinkie had noticed too) that went with every good quality sari she ever wore! But her jewellery! The real McCoy! Diamonds, gold and emeralds. Necklace with added ropes of pearls, ring and discrete small earrings to match her ring. A priceless set for a priceless Royal. Her husband wore his smart colourful safa and so I took their portrait to start the day which he later put on Facebook as his circle portrait and online but without a byline for the talented photographer - moi-meme!
The moment we got to the palace, I was abandoned with no one to talk to or be introduced to. I quickly saw the men sat apart from the women. Oh those colourful safas and wonderful saris. But these were the posh expensive ones on display plus wonderful gold jewellery. This time not one person spoke to me or asked who I was. What a contrast between the two weddings. The rich and the poor.
Bored sitting down watching and waiting, I raced around taking photos. It was hard to photo the women as they were all huddled together and I could not get in with space to do a good job. I only dared speak to one Royal. She was stunning, wearing my favourite royal blue sari and magnificent jewellery. She gave me permission to have her portrait taken, a real Indian beauty, friendly when spoken to and said she was a close member of the family. She asked no questions like who had invited me. Obviously I was not a gatecrasher!
Then I saw a procession of men bearing gifts under covers just like the three kings from Bethlehem must have done! What was under the covers I wondered? They walked slowly up the red carpet strewn with colourful confetti leading to the palace, past the two adorned painted elephants and camels, carrying trays groaning with offerings for the golden boy. The ceremony began with him being presented with the gifts which turned out to be hundreds of saris laid out on the ground in front of the raised platform with the canopy. I found out later these would be used for safas and some presumably for his bride who was not present.
This Tika day was part one of the marriage ceremony. The young man was dressed all in gold with two rows of priceless emeralds around his neck. Seated under a fancy canopy with servants fanning him and elders carrying out the traditional ceremony of giving him a Tika. I got up, went to the 'stage' with the professional photographers and boldly shot the action. Next I went up to several important looking men to photo their safas. Each one politely agreed but not one asked me who had invited me. By chance I photographed a colonel sporting his medals only to find out the next day that he was Madame's brother in law! Had I been introduced we could have talked. Doubtless he would have had stories to tell.
Not one woman spoke to any man. Complete segregation! In India everyone knows their place - even the Royals! An Outsider can get away with murder crossing borders. Later I was to accost the Maharaja of Jaipur himself at the vintage car rally at his palace and take his portrait too. Later when I sent a bunch of photos to a Indo-Canadian designer I had met at my local Jaipur Modern restaurant, she texted back, 'Well done, you met Joey!' Which sounded like her family knew him well enough to call him by his intimate name.
I had brought a suitable gift so I thought not realising that the bride would not be there as well. It was a trendy metal sign that was divided into three with the words 'home sweet home'. I only had a Royal Pavilion bag from Brighton to put it in. To my horror I saw all the men line up to give money in envelopes and their blessing to the young man. I photographed the golden boy receiving envelopes and throwing them over his shoulder to three waiting servants with big sacks. What was I to do? Well I marched up to him as I was not going to wait on line and handed him the bag telling him it was not money but useful for his home with his bride. He glanced up at me bewildered, just mumbled thank you but did not ask who I was. If it had been me, I would have!
Next on the agenda was the Jaipur Literary Festival opening on the 20th February at the Diggi Palace. I had cleverly gone the previous day to register to avoid the chaos. It was free but I later found out that if I had paid £30, I would have got two meals and a show in the evening and been allowed into the hotel which otherwise was blocked off to the plebs like Moi! I later found out the next day that 6,500 people had come.
I firstly noticed large numbers of school children. Indians are into education. There was one important huge bookshop and a small stand for Penguin Books of India who were giving away orange Puffin badges which went well with my orange attire. Orange is a powerful colour in India which is probably why Indians want my photo and to be photographed with me. The first day I wore my silk and felt emerald green and black wrap bought in Istanbul. I ended up in two newspapers. The next day several people told me they had seen my photo in the Hindustani Times! I never saw the other newspaper.
First I was asked to pose with a plant pot for an ecological organisation. Then an adorable young stylist and his associate asked me to pose for their fashion blog and interview me. I then took the 23 year old stylist's photo and discovered that when he took his glasses and jacket off, he was very photogenic wearing a tropical Hawaiian style shirt so I took good photos of him. A few days later, he emailed with links saying they could not stop talking about my Rani style which for them was sort of European a la Turk as I wear religious headdresses, turbans and bones from Israel and Turkey. Who knows what I will buy in Abu Dahbi when I get there after India.
Then I met the owner of a private museum set up by his erudite anthropologist author father in Delhi. We connected because after he had shown me the three kilo beautiful coffee table book he was selling to a client, I honed in to his big problem. No children. Who will inherit his vast priceless Indian heritage collection of ceramics, tribal artefacts and textiles? I suggested the City of Delhi as the museum is already open to the public free of charge. We dined that evening and I discovered a middle aged international man with a complex that he is taken for a European because he does not look Indian and Indian people do not believe he is Hindu saying he speaks good Hindi!!! Yet another problem. He can only eat Indian food and even when he travels worldwide has to locate Indian restaurants. At 53 he is already worried about getting old. After two divorces and no children, his sister cooks for him. I told him when he is an old man, doubtless single as he does not care for Indian ladies, to get a housekeeper. He frowned at the thought!
I returned the next afternoon. A man wanted my photo with him. I was decked out for the kill in orange this time. After the shoot, I asked for his card as he said he was a singer but the card he gave me with his name on was a press card. Later he came up to me offering me some spicy nuts before wandering off into the crowds lost forever. I will write to him and find out who he really is!
I was wearing an Italian orange brimmed sunhat, orange earrings from Italy and a Greek designed, made in India, orange, black, lime green and yellow tunic over a greek designed dress in orange and black but made in Indonesia. I guess I was noticeable but then I am a Fashionista.
I settled on a wall alone in a crowd waiting and watching. Hundreds of people walked past me. Three young men aged 23 respectively sat next to me looking at the programme of the day's lectures. We began to talk and ended up taking photos. A middle aged man sat next to me on my other side also perusing the programme. I told the boys I had bought a book and they told me the author was a famous actor and would be giving a talk. At that stage the stranger jumped in speaking excellent English talking about the actor but letting me know he was a professional tour guide who spoke French and Spanish! After exchanging whatsapp numbers with the adorable law students, the tour guide invited me for a drink and eventually drove me back to my hotel via the jeweller I already knew who was trying to entice me to buy my dream 'Elizabeth Gage' ring as he was the manufacturer for one of the most prestigious jewellery makers in London along with Anouska Hempel also being one of his many clients. How would my new friend know I had already been to the showroom? I could not get out of going as he had already phoned the owner. I was trapped. Indians are clever persuasive business people! I eventually succumbed as the price dropped with the offer of a slightly inferior emerald as the central gem! He would stamp the ring and give me a replacement value in uk receipt. How could I resist? He measured my finger. Size 9. One day to make. I paid and am now the proud owner of an 'Elizabeth Gage' original ring that I do not need but have always wanted. Sooner or later I usually get what I want!
The tour guide invited me to his humble home for dinner saying what a good cook his wife was and wanting me to meet his daughter who spoke English. Once again I was offered chapatti and dhal! His wife did not speak English and his daughter of 15 was too shy to speak. So the inevitable photos were taken and later emailed.
But synchronicity struck again. The tour guide used to play cricket in the streets when he and Sangay, Chirmi Palace owner's son and the man who 'brought' me to Jaipur, were 15!!!!
Next stop - Pushkar before the blue city of Jodhpur.
Part 3 written in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. February 2016.