One and a quarter of a man
While describing about Jaipur in his More Tramps Abroad, in 1897, Mark Twain said: And the city itself is a curiosity. Any Indian city is that, but this one is not like any other that we saw. It is shut up in a lofty turreted wall; the main body of it is divided into six parts by perfectly straight streets that.are more than a hundred feet wide; the blocks of houses exhibit a long frontage of the most taking architectural quaintnesses, the straight lines being broken everywhere by pretty little balconies, pillared and highly ornamented, and other cunning and cozy and inviting perches and projections, and many of the fronts are curiously pictured by the brush, and the whole of them have the soft rich tint of strawberry ice-cream. One cannot look down the far stretch of the chief street and persuade himself that these are real houses and that it is all out-of-doors – the impressions that it is an unreality, a picture, a scene in a theatre is the only one that will t.ake hold.
It was in a winter night of 1967 that I had set out for Jaipur for the first time. An official of my hosts, my escort to the Delhi Railway Station, assured me that he had got me the best available compartment, an AG first class (of the pre-ves tibule days). Soon, as the train began to roll, I began wishing that he had been less kind, for the airconditioner competed with the temperature outside with a vengeance for proving its teeth.
After a prolonged tossing on the berth and under a blanket both of which appeared to have become sheets of ice, I had just managed to fall asleep when desperate knocks on the door woke me up. The train had reached Jaipur and the representative of my hosts was beating in the bush to locate me at that unearthly hour.
I was embarrassed. But a greater embarrassment awaited me. At the exit, I failed to produce my ticket, despite repeated search of my pockets and briefcase. The ticket-collector stood sporting a stoic stance but probably enjoying my plight. Fortunately, a higher officer came to -my rescue. ‘There were only two passengers in AC first class; I checked their tickets and am sure of their bona fides,’ he asserted, and I was escorted out.
Once in the guesthouse, I remembered the resting place of my precious ticket – my hip pocket. I tried to go a bit philosophic over the situation, but could not proceed beyond the truism that a person with an unreliable memory had no right to own a hip pocket.
Years later, glancing through Raymond Chandler’s Farwell, My Lovely, when I read, ‘She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket’, I remembered having felt the ticket-collector’s frown in my hip pocket, and the chilly sensation it caused in that already chilly morning at the guest house. On my return journey I happened to run into the officer and very cordially offered to him the lost-and-found property. This time he visibly frowned. Alas, there is a time for everything: a time to love and a time to die and a time to produce your ticket.
‘Your first engagement, a talk at the women’s college, is at nine,’ I was informed.
‘What do you mean by first? Do I have a second engagement?’
‘Second and third – at the University after lunch and, for the members of the staff, in the evening. Your train back to Delhi is at midnight.’
Even then I did not give up all hopes of stealing a few glimpses of the city. There would be a couple of hours available to me after the first meeting and before the lunch. But after the talk, the kind Principal refused to release me without entertaining me to tea, despite my several sighs of despair and wistful glances through the window at the pink buildings. Alas, when at last the tray arrived, there was only time enough to reach the guesthouse for lunch.
The university teachers who joined me for lunch were friendly and in good spirit. But as soon as we began our walk towards the lecture theatre they showed a tendency to fall behind and talk among themselves in whispers. They put up a grin if I looked askance. I was mystified but kept my curiosity in suspended animation.
I found them reverting to their happy and courteous mood when they led me to our guesthouse for some rest before the next meeting.
Finally, I had to observe, ‘My dear friends, pardon me if I’m wrong, but the whole lot of you appeared to have grown suddenly gloomy, on your way to the lecture theatre, as if you were being led to police custody!’
‘Indeed, we had our trepidations. Yours was the first speech in English in some years without protests from the champions of Hindi,’ they explained. ‘What a relief!’
It was a moonlit night and, even after the third meeting, it had not been too late for me or my kind friends to brave the cold for some rambling. We stood, before long, in front of what is known as Hawa Mahal, a name which must grow most inviting in the summer. The five-storeyed palace with curvilinear roofs and beautiful domes is remarkable for its semioctagonal windows, screened by perforated stones through which queens and concubines, princesses and their maids used to witness festive processions on the streets. Today tourists on the streets witness the windows sans the twinkling eyes behind them.
‘This was built by Sawai Pratap Singh, the grandson of the city’s founder Sawai Jai Singh II,” said a friend.
‘Is Sawai a synonym of Maharaja?’ a lecturer new to Jaipur asked.
‘It is a funny suffix for a ruler, but obviously not so funny according to 18th century values. When Jai Singh ascended the throne, he was only thirteen. He met Aurangzeb and the latter was so impressed by the teenage ruler that he exclaimed ‘Sawai’ – one and a quarter! That is to say, the boy Jai Singh was more than even a full grown man. Jai Singh’s entourage took it as an honour and the word became a dynastic title,’ the professor of history explained.
‘Do you call it merely funny? It’s ridiculous when you remember the character of its author!’ commented one of his colleagues. ‘I wish the Maharaja did without it!’
Jai Singh II (1699-1744), no doubt, was a scholar and a seeker. He created Jaipur, the city bearing his name, after a thorough study of the plans of some of the Western cities as well as the Indian Shilpa Sbastra. He then shifted his capital from Amber to the new site.
He established the five famous observatories – at Jaipur, Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura in an era when hardly any Indian prince had any time to devote to astronomy. Of them the ones at Ujjain and Mathura have disappeared. The one in Delhi is most widely known, but the observatory mostly made of marbles at Jaipur, is larger than that and more sophisticated too. Jaisingh had secured the services of Xavier D’Silva, a widely acclaimed Spanish astronomer, but to make the project relevant to the Indian situation, he enrolled the talents of Samarat Jagannath of Maharashtra and Muhammad Sahi of Delhi.
Jai Singh’s political ambitions, however, overshadowed his scientific quest. In ancient India, a king inspired by an urge to become the king of kings, let loose a horse which was to be followed by his army. The horse would wander as it pleased and if it returned to its owner unchecked by any other ruler, the former’s claim to superiority was established. Jai Singh had the weird whim to revive the tradition, the Aswamedha Yajna.
Todd does not think that Jai Singh’s horse wandered far, for had it entered the deserts the Rathors would have thrown it into their stables. Nevertheless, Jai Singh celebrated the triumphant return of his horse and performed a Yajna and erected a statue of the animal.
Jai Singh was conspiring with Peshwa Baji Rao to snap any tie of allegiance to the Mughals when death overtook him in 1743.