I’d Dye For You…

We walked endlessly into the tiny market lanes from the Clock Tower. The locals call it Ghanta Garh. Unfortunately, the clock is a modern type, nothing about it suggests history.

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There’s a frenzied air about this market. The narrow lane has clusters for various ware- bangles, jewellery, tobacco, dupattas, dyers, fabric, utensils, beaders, farsan, spices…
After Jaisalmer, Jodhpur is huge, crowded, urban, chaotic, colorful.
So colorful it stuns the eyes. In the best way possible.
It’s easy to see why these colors came into favour. When the landscape is dusty, brown, colorless, these bright colors infuse life.
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We have never seen hues as deep as those that Jodhpur drapes. Every pink is the deepest pink in the ‘rani pink’ palette, every red is the deepest ‘surkh laal’  that can be brought about on cotton. Yellows are more basant than basant itself.

The dyers are soaked in their skill. The colors they mix are with the measurement of mixing that their ancestors have done for seven hundred years or more.
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The Tie- Dye techniques- Bandhej, Leheriya etc- of dying cloth are said to go back five thousand years.
The discovery of dyes dates to ancient times, with the discovery that colours could be extracted from different parts of plants, leaves and flowers.
The art of tie and dye was a part of trade during the period of early trading. Historians suggest that the art was brought to India by Muslim Khatris from Sindh, who introduced it in Kutch.
Even today, the Muslim Khatris are the largest community involved in the tie and dye business.

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I meet Salma as she sits outside her home dying an odhni in a shade of  pink. She has a steel bowl in front of her she uses to mix the exact amount of chemical dye to get the exact shade she needs as a match for the accompanying lehenga.
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This is her story:
My grand father came from a family of famous dyers. The family only dyed turbans for noblemen and the royalty. They were so in demand around the Teej, Dusshera and Diwali festivals that they were often forced to go without sleep.
Hiring help from outside the family was not feasible because only natural dyes from plants, flowers, pulses and minerals were used. How to mix them to a particular hue had been secrets the family preserved for generations.
Even greater was the fear of theft of precious and semi-precious gems that patrons would give their dyers to grind and mix with the natural dyes for special effects.
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Salma looks pensive when she narrates how chemical dyes and the end of princely lifestyle also brought about an end to the real art of dyeing.
“It’s just mixes now, tezaab, chemicals, that do the work. The artistry and rare perfection in the hues that my ancestors were gifted with is obsolete now. Even my brothers and I use chemical dyes. And because every nook and corner has a dyer, we barely eke out a living.”
imageThe use of chemical colors is inevitable, but the ‘naap tol’ in pallette is handed down exactly as it was.
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Shop after bursting-at-the- seams shop beams back color- every shade is brighter than the one before.
One of the bangle-seller at the foot of the Mehrangarh fort tells me-
“I cannot imagine wearing anything but the brightest shades of red and pink. They are the colors I’ve seen my mother and every woman in my family wear. It is my identity. Just as a bright pink turban is the identity of the men in our clan.”
She looks at my sky blue kurti and odhni, holds up my hands and puts “Rani” colored bangles on my wrists saying:
“Wear these. These are the colors of our land, the colors our warriors wore in their turbans to battles, and the women wore through living out their lives. These colors sifted the  wives from the widows.
You city women are scared to wear bright colors because you are scared to stand apart, scared of the attention you will draw You know it, don’t you, that these colors make even the plainest of us look beautiful.”
Of course we know it.
I look at these beautiful women sitting there trying to sell trinkets, and can’t agree more.
These colors make everything look beautiful.
Even the dusty evening haze against the rocky brown facade of the seven hundred year old fort.
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Chandelao Garh

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Chandelao Garh is a well kept secret, a world away from the tourist circuit.
It isn’t hard to see why His and Her Highness of Norway come to relax here, and why the overseas guests return year after year.

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Asha our hostess, the current thakur’s sister, has suggested we reach by 8 AM. Just forty KM from Jodhpur, we make it in time for a warm welcome and breakfast in the Raola- the original main quarters in the heart of the garh.
Paratha, kachori, fresh dahi, orange juice and butter… besides the regular fare. We wash it down with chai.

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The Garh has history seeped into its  dusky pink-rust walls:
Chandelao garh was built by the descendants of Rao Kumpa who fought against Sher Shah Suri and died in the battle of Sumelgiri in 1554 AD. Seeing this bravery, Emperor Sher Shah Suri said, “For a handful of bajra, I nearly lost the kingdom of Hindustan.”
This thikana was granted by the Maharaja of Mewar in 1744 AD, for the bravery in battle  displayed by Rao Kumpa.
Our host is Praduman Singh, the 16th Thakur in lineage. He is a conservationist, restorer and works at the grass-roots with the local folk.

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Each room has a history. We  have tea in the Sileh Khana, where all the guns and rifles were kept for the cavalry riders, always in readiness for the Maharaja.
The stables of yore are converted to beautiful suites.
Everything is solar powered.

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Asha, Thakur Praduman’s gracious sister has traveled  specially  so we can spend time together. The tour she takes us through is peppered with stories shared by her parents and grandparents.

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There are rare old pictures on all the walls dating back to two hundred years, including some of Chandalao at the Grand Durbar/ partying with Lord Curzon.

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As I gaze on a picture  of her great grandfather, Asha talks about the pearl necklace he’s wearing: When my mother found a stray pearl from this necklace, they got it x-ray’d. We were offered a fortune for it.

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I fall in love with the room Asha’s grandmother lived in.

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The jharokhas look out at the gardens, the main gate rebuilt in later to the scale of elephants coming inside, and to the Thakur’s side of the garh. There used to be a bridge to connect both buildings.

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I open an ancient looking chest, revealing the royal vanity case. It’s interesting to think of her gazing everyday at her husband’s picture on one side and Jodhpur’s on the other.
I can see Chandelao wears more jewels than Jodhpur.

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As we stroll through the Bishnoi (said to be the first ecologists of the world) village, the host suggests we take a jeep ride through the desert countryside. It’s a heart stopping moment when herds of Chinkara gazelle, Black Buck and Blue Bull bolt suddenly at our approach, to hide behind the Acacia shrubs in the dusty countryside.

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We sit exchanging skills and stories with the women from the local community project Sundar Rang, started by the present Thakur’s warm, generously hospitable, elegant grey eyed mother.
We know she’s around somewhere because she’s always preceded by her pet dachshund.

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There  are smiles and questions about our clothes, jewellery and travel sans a man.
We ask them about their ‘borlas”, the beautiful forehead ornament and one of them laughing says: The husband gifts a borla when we get married. If it isn’t big enough, they can think they’re still un-married. The others laugh and agree.

When the bestie’s phone rings, they ask : Is it your husband calling?
Bestie jokes saying: I’ve left him and come here.
The woman looks her straight in the eye and says with a half-smile: Jaadda aareha hai. Abb na choodd uss ko : The winter is closing in. Don’t leave him now.
We all laugh.

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Often, there’s a deep unsaid understanding among women of things said and unsaid, seriously or half in jest. It is beyond shared backgrounds and conditioning. This is one such moment.
I tell them it’s obvious the air conditioning is ruining that lovin’ feeling in urban homes- there’s no upcoming jaadda to save marriages. It is the same temperature in the bedroom throughout the year.

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As we sit for a candlelit  dinner on the terrace, the moon rises from behind the garh. It looks loony and over-bright. The stars are huge and hanging low in the sky.

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It’s just ten PM and every light in the village is switched off.
Chandelao garh is lit up with silvery moonlight.

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