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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day one Jaipur

Luckily, I did not experience much of the polar vortex except for a minor diversion on the plane flying from Paris to Delhi. Delhi fog was too thick for a safe landing, so the pilot took us on a ride to Mumbai where we "hung" out on the tarmac for 45 minutes before flying again to Delhi and landing ever so smoothly. After five days of exciting Delhi/Agra tourism, I made my way to Jaipur to learn miniature painting with Ramu Ramdev

On my first day in Jaipur, I had an appointment with Ramu at 10.30am at Friends of the Museum Gallery inside the famous City Palace. I got there a little early and Ramu’s people took care of me; they chatted with me, showed me their work, gifted me some sketches and of course offered me chai.  The gallery was bloated with miniatures of all size and tables akin to coffee tables that were slightly tilted and were smeared with paint on the bottom right corner. Sitting cross legged behind such tables, miniature artists affiliated with Ramu demonstrated miniature sketching to tourists. Ramu's infamous miniature painting that garnered him the presidential award for excellence in Miniature Art was displayed discretely in one corner and a huge oil painting of his mother hung in the middle of the gallery for all to see.

While chatting with an artist called Behgirat, Ramu appeared and asked to see my work. I had nothing to show him as all my calligraphy work so far has been done on big canvas and I had no pictures to show. He switched topics and explained to me the tradition in teaching miniature art. First, there is no payment expected and second, there is no teaching unless there emerges a relationship between teacher and student. For the latter, I needed to get a coconut, two rose garlands, rice and 11 rupees.

I handed one of Ramu’s workers some rupees to get me those things and in the meantime I got introduced to my Guru, Govind Ramdev. Govind was the oldest miniaturist in the room and is Ramu's older brother and guru. Govind had taught Ramu and most others around me and this amazing, established and insanely talented man was going to be my guru. Govind wasted no time and invited me to sit behind him to begin my lesson and copy an image of a woman in Jaipury style. I began work and some of the fellow artisans came to see my technique commending me for the work I am doing on my first day. I felt encouraged and supported by a sweet and old community of artists. At one point, a man approached me with a tray that had the coconut, garland and rice and began teaching me the ceremonial steps to honoring my Guru. 

I was instructed by my Guru to give those blessings to lords Ganesh and Krishna. Then I was invited to do the same to my guru. With my ring finger I placed a dot of red paste between his eyebrows and with my thumb I smudged some of same between his eyebrows and drew it up one inch. I took one piece of rice and placed it on top of the red paste on his forehead. Then I offered the coconut that was wrapped with a string and 11 rupees. I gave him the garland and brought my hands together in Namaste. Whoa! I had no problems performing that ritual and in fact, I enjoyed the ceremony a lot. No one was watching, yet it felt like we did have witnesses; maybe of the kind that the human eye cannot see.  

I went back to sit in my little spot, right behind my guru, on the floor, surrounded by miniatures and Indian art. I looked up and saw myself living an amazing dream where I was held warmly and “taken on” by a community of artists. It felt as if I went back in time and I became the young apprentice to an honorable master who descends from a long lineage of miniaturists. Ceremonies to me always conjure up fantasies of times gone by. The whole feel to the experience felt old and grounded and the view before me affirmed that; City Palace was the historical setting, all the artists were seated cross legged on the ground and as tourists passed by, artists would try to sell them stories in a fashion akin to that of ancient markets.

I, the foreigner, dressed in Indian garb, sitting behind my guru, was not nor was I perceived to be a tourist. This weird identity composition allowed me to overhear tourists haggle and negotiate with those around me. I felt sick to my stomach at the disrespect and atrocious attempts at “negotiating” down a price. I also got bored with the tourists who sat and enjoyed a lengthy demonstration, profusely commended the artist, gave sweet and excessive thanks but bought nothing.

By the end of the day, I had met four miniaturists, two of whom are renowned and I got to practice different eye, lip and nose forms from different miniature schools. It was 6:00pm when my guru told me my work is starting to look tired. I packed my things, bid Namaste to all and left the glorious City Palace. Tomorrow, I get to make and use natural paint. Can't wait!


  1. Amazing post and amazing pics!!!! I felt like I was right there with you while reading...make sure you keep blogging!!!! Missing you tons xoxoxoxoxo

  2. WOW, this sounds soooo awesome !

    Keep up the posts I am a fan :)
    very proud of you