I have been to Jaipur twice in the last week. The first time was with other CASI interns. The second was for work at the beginning of this week. I feel like I have seen two completely different cities, and two completely different interpretations of Rajasthani culture, on these trips.
While visiting monuments and forts last weekend, I was enamored by the breathtaking beauty of Jaipur’s Old City. We had captivating tour guides (and Uber drivers) who exposed us to the rich culture of a world that I’ve only ever seen in movies. We were told tales of maharajahs and ancient wars. We were exposed to a culture that was uniquely Rajasthani.
I was captivated by stories of the current royal family in Rajasthan. I often found myself daydreaming about the palace that I would like to live in one day. I imagined what I would look like sitting in every room in City Palace as I watched over my subjects and lived in the lap of luxury and power. At Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal, I was enchanted by the stories of influential women standing behind one-sided panels to hide themselves from people on the other side. There was something so mysterious, magical, and somewhat frightening about the idea of being so important that you would have to be hidden because no one outside of the royal family was worthy enough to see you.
This first trip was limited to all of the tourist traps where we could take Instagram-worthy photos to make all of our friends and family jealous. My second trip has been totally different. I was sent here for work on short notice to help with the opening of a new LEAP center in Jaipur. I was expecting to be charmed by the city again, and at first, I was. This facade quickly dissolved only for it to be reimagined as I found the true beauty of this experience again.
When I arrived, I stayed at a luxury hotel adorned with classic Rajasthani handiwork courtesy of LEAP. Everything was exactly as I remembered from the week before, but soon I was sitting in an office without power and could feel the sweat slowly dripping down my back as people outside were shouting and drivers were harassing each other with their horns. To say I was less enamored by Jaipur would be an understatement.
I realized immediately that the image of Jaipur that was fed to me last week was far from the complete picture of this region. I have learned so much from talking to potential LEAP students who came in and out of the office on our opening day. They illustrated an image of Rajasthan that is much simpler and more subdued. Many of them come from rural areas where their family is involved in agriculture to some capacity. They are less accustomed to hearing English spoken so freely like it is in Jaipur. They described the kind of India that we always hear about in the news when they talked about a culture that widely practices child marriage and has a more antiquated perspective on the role of women in society. Both of these things directly conflict with my Western feminist views. I wanted to be angry that people still live that way, but I couldn’t be. The people that came into the office today wanted nothing more than to improve their lives by gaining new employability and English language skills. They, like everyone else in the world, just wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families. It made me much less judgmental and much more empathetic towards the way in which they conduct their lives.
My second trip to Jaipur has reminded me that we are all the same in that we want the best for the people we love. I admire the hard work and bravery that it took for these potential students to even come in for a consultation at our office. They could’ve just made their peace with the cards that were dealt to them, but instead they decided to reach out for help to improve their lives. I look forward to continuing to interact with LEAP students. Everyone who I have met so far has had a fascinating life story and a genuine desire to be the best that they can be. It is inspiring to work with them.