Most days on the final rundown to Diwali (festival of light), Abbu my rickshaw driver would pass by the huge roundabout near the Johari Bazaar just outside the gates of the old city of Jaipur so I could check out the progress of the massive bamboo structures literally tied together with rags that mutated daily from rickety skeletons reaching across the road, into spectacular arched gateways in time for the main Diwali festivities. Take a look at the progress..
A few days later on day one of Diwali, Vix and I headed to the LMB Sweet Shop, the ultimate place for anything candied and sickly looking you could get in a box. Evidently LMB had been stockpiling mountains of confectionary ready for the ‘Orf’, we fought a lively campaign to the front of the queue waving our chits to claim our Diwali selection of cashew, coconut, and all kinds of celebratory sweets. Meanwhile the street markets were stuffed with sales of strings of Ashok leaves (to signify peace and the end of grief), marigolds and claypots for Diwali lights.
I’d been invited by Clemmie and Laura my Gap Yah friends who I’d met recently to spend Diwali with them at a new girls orphanage in Jaipur where they were staying and working at, I heard so much about the place I couldn’t wait to meet the first two arrivals at the orphanage – a pair of five and seven year old girls. I made sure I bought some revolting pink sugary bons bons to add to their present of a pretty pink dress each.
The orphanage had been recently set up by the legendary Colonel K S Garcha, primarily to give opportunities to otherwise marginalized children. The theory being to accept between five and seven year old kids (there’s a boy’s orphanage too) who would be educated and eventually sent to American universities and become unstoppable human beings.
Zanab (5) and Kushbu (7) had been living on the streets only six months earlier. Kushbu had been sent out to buy milk only to find when she returned home that her entire family had moved out and abandoned her. The other being younger can’t remember any details except she somehow survived living rough with her brother. These tiny adorable girls were heavenly, so warm, affectionate, bright and now being cared for by their new ‘Mummies’ in their new home. They LOVED their new dresses, they put them on with huge grins, found an Indian pop channel on TV, turned it up loud and performed a superb freestyle wiggling/dancing show for me. Clemmie and Laura looked gorgeous in their sari’s, I made do with a kaftan over slightly dodgy trousers from the market so we could take the girls with their Mummies to the temple and say prayers – 8 of us squeezed into a rickshaw which I believe is quite an achievement even by Indian standards.
After the temple Col Garsha had us all over to his five star house for fireworks on his rooftop. Kushbu and Zanab called the Col and his wife daa daa jee and daa dee maa (grandpa/grandma). Sweetness!
Be warned, Indians with fireworks are a properly bonkers combination! Little girls in floaty cotton dresses, the Mummies with loose saris shawls, high heels and Col Garsha in his turban lit and threw all manner of incendiaries around with reckless abandon. Later we watched the Jaipur skyline ablaze with the endless monster arsenals of fireworks from our table at the swanky rooftop restaurant where Col Garsha had treated us to Diwali dinner. Hopefully Jaipur would collapse into a sugar coma soon or run out of explosive stuff but nah, the night was young.