11 Dec Journey to Jaipur
I stood in the courtyard of a palace in Jaipur, wearing a fragranced rose garland around my neck, listening to the drum-laden charm of Indian folk songs and watching the most incredible lunar eclipse in the sky above the old stone towers around me. It was a moment to savour. Or perhaps, just to capture…
‘Come over here and stand with these dancers,’ Hanan commanded, breaking my reverie. She waved the camera at me and hauled me over to where a group of bemused women covered in bangles were waiting to take the stage. I stood amongst them and grinned.
‘OK now dance with them!’ The dancers and I looked at each other doubtfully. ‘Come on, don’t be shy!’ Hanan coaxed. I put a half-hearted hand in the air and shuffled my feet in a dance-like fashion. The dancers looked at me pityingly. One of them smirked.
Oblivious to my humiliation, Hanan was on a roll.
‘OK now, let’s take a picture with this man,’ Hanan said. I dutifully stood next to a bewildered waiter wearing traditional garb and carrying a plate of paneer masala.
‘OK, now go on stage and dance!’ Hanan suggested. But I drew the line. I’d had only the one glass of Indian wine, and I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my fellow INK conferenceattendees to my flailing limbs and a sense of rhythm that can’t make it through an aerobics class.
I can’t blame my wife, though, because everywhere you look in India, there is colour, light, life and a world asking to be immortalised through a camera lens. I didn’t think that should have extended to our hotel room, however. As we’d been dressing for dinner, Hanan figured out that the wall between our bedroom and bathroom was actually a huge window with an electric blind. Once she figured out how to open it, it made the bathroom completely open to the bedroom, a box of light.
‘Why don’t you stand in the bathroom, so I can take a picture of you!’ Hanan said, delightedly grabbing the camera.
First of all, I couldn’t really understand the photo opportunity there, but secondly I was reminded of a previous trip to Mumbai when I met Lisa Ray for dinner and stayed the night with her in a chic hotel that had the same open bathroom arrangement. I hadn’t noticed that when I had decided to take a shower.
Only when I’d walked into the bathroom and started unbuttoning my shirt did I realise with some horror that I could see Lisa in the bedroom. Which meant she could see me in the bathroom. I’d pointed this out to Lisa at the time.
‘Oh, don’t worry about it, Shamimi, I don’t mind,’ was Lisa’s relaxed reply as she got on with emails.
I was happy that she didn’t mind, but I did. Call me shallow, but
there was no way on earth I was taking off all my clothes in front of a anyone except Hanan, who has over the years become used to the slow erosion of gravity about my person.
But enough of sagging and on to uplifting matters. The wonderful thing about INK is its TED-like format of talks, but also the strong humanistic streak that runs through the talks, the ideas and the leadership of Lakshmi Pratury. The theme was ‘the hero’s journey’ and anyone who has driven on any major street in India knows how heroic a simple journey can be.
Happily for us, Liat Aaronson had flown in from Israel. You may remember Liat as Hanan’s partner in TEDxHolyLand, but she is also family to us, so to have her join us was the icing on the cake, or indeed, the syrup on our gulab jamun. Liat and Hanan had met at TEDIndia two years ago and in that time, they had brought together Palestinian and Israeli women at their own conference and they had inspired me (or in Hanan’s case, left me no option) to make our new feature The House of Tomorrow.
So I felt in safe hands as the three of us left the conference on the first evening to travel up to the Amber fort to meet another member of our family of dear friends, Leena Yadav. It was magical. Softly lit courtyards and majestic buildings, the seductive scents of candles, flowers and spices, the gentle company of some amazing women.
On the way back, jet lagged and overcome with the wonder of it all, I closed my eyes in the car, only to be roused by Hanan, clutching the camera.
‘There’s a cow in the road!’ she said. Well, seeing a cow on the road in India is like seeing a car in the road in London. But then came a short parade of elephants and, finally, a wild boar, chomping away in a mountain of rubbish at the side of the road.
Hanan asked the driver to stop, and opened my door.
‘Go and stand next to it!’ she said, already composing the shot in the viewfinder.
I looked at the boar. The boar looked at me. Call me over-sensitive, but I wasn’t keen to approach a hungry hog half my size at midnight by picking my way through a pile of decomposing food waste. I’d already posed next to a brown bear in Canada, and one wild animal photo op per year was enough for me. I shut the door and strapped myself in.
‘You need a sense of adventure,’ Hanan admonished as Liat gave me a raised eyebrow.
‘But I married you,’ I pointed out. My wife eyed me. I may not have danced much Bollywood, or hung out with the boars, but if marriage is the great magical journey, I couldn’t have have found a better partner and for once, I think she knew I was right.