Our evening ends in Jaipur with a ride home in a tuktuk (see photo) whose driver informs us with great delight that his is a disco tuktuk. Have we misunderstood him? He sees the confusion on our faces, and with a big smile, hits a switch. Lights flash inside the roof and music blares forth from speaks. The tuktuk vibrates with the rhythm (or is it the potholes?) and our driver bobs his head. It is as he said – a disco tuktuk.
Inside the disco tuktuk
The Disco Tuktuk and its Creator
Marcus and Annie with the Disco Tuktuk
I awake well before dawn due to jetlag and, as I am surfing the web, an email pings through. ‘Are you awake?’ it asks. It is Annie who is in the room upstairs, an outside stairwell separating us. Outside enough to render it unapproachable in the dark Jaipur night. Who knows what might be out there since only a short six-foot wall separates the garden from a gully. Jamaicans, of which I am one, know that gullies are no different from garbage-riddled, run-down alleys. Anyway, over email we decide that we will go for a jog at dawn on the walled-in gated driveway of 100 feet that is enclosed in the back garden. As I said, the gully is just outside. Thirty laps later in the summer monsoon heat and humidity, we collapse. The day has started.
We visit Amrapali, a jewelry manufacturing company that also has offices in New York and London. We have a quick glimpse of its store and then a full tour of its factory. The variety and quality of the work is astounding. They have over 1200 employees and every single one of them manufacturing jewelry is male, making intricate, meticulously detailed work with patience and focus. The factory is calm, peaceful even. What is it about this culture that cultivates such grounded qualities?
A casting ‘tree’ with pieces for jewelry attached. This is how the castings come out after being pulled from a flask. The pieces are then cut off of the center ‘trunk’ which is then remelted as it is solid gold. The pieces are then assembled and polished.
We get a tour of the Kundan room. It is an unbelievable experience to see each stage in the production of this traditional jewelry that originated in Jaipur itself, flourishing in the Mughul period. Kundan involves making thin frames in (usually) floral-like shapes, backing them with a sheet of metal that is hot-enameled on the flat side, then filled with molten wax on the other, into which stones are arranged, setting the stones with gold foil that sticks to the wax. The foil is pushed in deep between the stones and the frames, slightly overlapping the stones while wedging them in place. Makes it sound simple? It is so incredibly precise and delicate that my eye arteries start to pound. Annie and I are astounded that they do not use magnifying goggles (a.k.a. lice-detectors for the school mothers who have been turned on to them thanks to the outbreaks in NYC). And, needless to say, truly impressed.
The unset piece awaiting stones, enameling and kundan setting
We then meet Jonathan Swann, an Englishman who is a master jeweler, who is here to fine-tune the techniques of the jewelry students. As an aside, Jonathan is even taller than our German giant. Annie and I strain our necks around them. I am not sure I can manage another torturous Thai massage however. The neck strain loosens that evening during a heated discussion over Jonathan’s concerns that Afghan traditions in jewelry making and design are not being included in the collections. After my blood has cooled down a bit and I have re-holstered my metaphorical guns, I wonder if it was his way of asking without posing a question if Annie and I are including the Afghans enough. I have come to India planning to work with the Afghan designers and to include their drawings in my collection. I hope this reassures him as I appreciate the fact that he cares about the integrity of the Afghans and their culture.
An Indian aside – a cow crossing the road in front of Amrapali