(Inspiration – the inset at the foot of my bed)
I’ve been dying to get to Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, an 18th century collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja (King) Jai Singh II. Its main purpose I gather was astrological. Astronomy was simply the necessary science behind it. Jantar Mantar is important to me because of how huge a facet astrology appears to be in Indian Hindu life. Babies are named according to where their birth planets line up; marriages dates, moving schedules, job decisions are all based on auspicious alignments. Astrology is so valued that universities offer degrees in the subject. Jantar Mantar’s installations and their extraordinary scientific precision in mapping the heavens are testament to its importance.
Since today is my last day in the city, anxiety sets in as I watch the sun climbing thought the sky. The Afghans are scheduled to visit the site. Annie and I are supposed to accompany them. I’m looking forward to spending time with the group again. However, time is slipping by. The morning is spent at our Narain Niwas porch ‘office’ where Sophia is going over Annie’s designs. She’s been sketching hundreds of shapes she has seen and wants some input. How many pieces in the collection? Who will make them? Gold? Plating? Suddenly, there is talk of visiting the factory. (The school/institute is closed.) There is no way we are going to fit everything in. My stomach is brewing and I worry its not just my nerves.
(Annie Fensterstock’s drawings – It’ll be a while but I promise to show photos of her finished pieces as soon as they’re ready. Imagine, lapis inlays with hammered gold surrounds…)
Ben has planned to shoot the Afghans’ visit to Jantar Mantar. We get in the car with Sambu, the Clark Gable of India, and head across town. The factory, the institute and the apartments where the Afghans are staying are all in the same area. We pull up outside the gate to the institute where the bus carrying the Afghans is waiting. Ben hops out with his camera and boards the bus. There is talk of us catching up to them after the factory visit. Annie nudges me. There’s no way, she says. We’ll never make it. Just go. Get on the bus. Hurry! They’re about to leave.
I fly out the car and race over to the bus. No need for them to open the door. The driver never closes it anyway, even while driving. I board but there are no seats. I am happy to stand. However, Fasel rises and gestures for me to sit. I shake my head and say NO! just in case he thinks the shake is an Indian Yes. He’ll hear nothing of it. (I am grateful… it is a long and jerky ride across town.)
Fasel is a charmer. He charms the ticket collector into charging Indian student prices for all of us; Instead of 200 rupees, its 15 apiece, a big break when there are close to 40 of us. One by one, we push through the turnstile and enter the old stone walls. Jantar Mantar is totally unexpected. To begin with, its clean lines appear contemporary as if Norman Foster might have had his hand in building it. This? In India almost 300 years ago?
We hire a tour guide inside. He is a smiling Indian man who clearly loves his work. He describes how each instrument is used in precise detail in Hindi, translated by Fasel, who also speaks English. As the tour guide hears the English translation, he stops Fasel short, happy to do it himself. Seriously, the man loves his job. Perhaps he is a physics teacher during the week. One instrument after another (and there are ALOT of them), he shows us the sun’s position, how it shifts, and how it is read. A quarter the way in, he has bored all the women and what looks like half the men.
(The enthusiastic tour guide)
(Soraya with the smiling eyes and her friend whose name slipped my mind)
(Zodiac measuring device)
(Model of Jantar Mantar’s largest instrument)
(My sign according to Indian astrology)
At which point a young Afghan man comes up to me. I don’t believe astrology, he says with force. There is anger (or is it fear?) in his eyes. I tell him its okay, no one has to believe. The tour guide then ushers us along. Five minutes later, he returns. I don’t believe astrology! he says again. This time, I shrug and smile. The park is closing. There isn’t a moment to spare inside. The guards want to go home ASAP and usher us out with haste. Not even time for another photo.
(One of the guards a half hour earlier)
At the gate, we slurp down water and enjoy a moment of shade. Although it is (only) 95 degrees, the air is parchingly dry.
(A quick respite from the heat and being on our feet)
Outside the gate, Fasel orchestrates the purchase of dhosas (?) being sold by a vendor from what looks like a metal laundry basket. The airy, dry dhosas are large-pizza-sized. Sprinkled with red hot pepper, they are delicious; Just don’t breathe in while eating.
As I am stuffing dhosa into my mouth, the young man comes up to me again. This time he says, Allah says not to believe in this astrology. The hairs rise on my neck. I swallow quickly and look him in the eye. Yes okay but their Allah says they should believe in astrology. He gives me a somewhat perplexed look. I’d love a good argument but we have to board the bus shortly and in any case my better judgment tells me to back down and away since I am feeling combative. With regret, I throw up my hands and give him a smile of chagrin. With time, I realize this was a chance to actually share our differences with peace and respect. I blew it. I can only hope I have the chance to speak with him again.