I roam the winding streets of the blue city in search of what seems like answers to the beginning of time as they know it. The question that was puzzling me was quite simple, ‘how did the blue city, in fact become blue?’ The sands of time had brought about a rather beautiful change to the houses of this hamlet, nestled at the foothills of the Mehrangarh fort. Houses swathed in blue hues were increasing by the year, and from the royal heights of the fort of Mehrangarh, all the eyes can see is a city of blue down below.
The tiny by-lanes of this infamous neighbourhood seem to get narrower, and branch out in every direction like an overgrown tree, as I venture deeper. As the notion of being lost in a maze of blue dawns on me, the heady scent of a mix of spices draws me towards a corner shop run by an elderly woman.
Her poker face unchanging, she held my gaze as though in a trance, whilst my words were left hanging in the air. She uttered not a word in response to my friendly banter, and gestured with her hands and eyes when asked for directions. But when asked for her picture, she surprisingly nodded yes, putting my apprehensions of having offended her at bay. Her picture unsmiling, still makes me wonder, why she chose to stay mute during our encounter.
In the distance I notice a few gentlemen dressed in white dhotis and colourful turbans talking animatedly with each other as they sip on warm cups of tea from glasses of mud. Their curious eyes follow me as I approach them, but their eyes widen in surprise when I stop to say hello.
They don’t seem to buy in to the hype around the blue city. “Jodhpur’s houses are as varied in colour as the turban on my head, this idea of clusters of houses in blue is a farce to lure tourists like you” says the man in the tie-dyed turban. Now that was punch in the gut for someone who just spent half a day walking about in search of the ‘blue mirage’!
To set the record straight, there are several houses in the old quarter that are painted blue, but don’t expect to find streets of only blue houses.
A good cup of tea inspires the storyteller in these parts, and listening in on theories exchanged between them, I picked the few most plausible. “ Back in the day, only the brahmins painted their homes with indigo, so as to stand out from the rest of us” said a man with an unusually large, white, moustache. “Many of us painted our houses blue to keep cool in the summers” chimes in the man who sat poised & cross-legged the whole time. “ I remember some houses being infested with termites, and so copper sulphate (which has a blue tint) was added as a deterrent” said the man in the red sweater. I sense an argument starting off as the man with the moustache, vehemently disagrees, saying all the houses here are painted with indigo dye. I suddenly remember being told that the people of the old quarter pride themselves in being eco-friendly. As I excuse myself from this heated discussion, they barely notice me walking away, but I smile, thanking myself for having stopped for a chat!
Here's a detailed guide to Jodhpur
The meandering lanes are decorated with the colours of drying clothes, and the vibrant hues of the sarees adorned by its women. The sound of rambunctious giggling brings my attention to two elderly women whispering to each other, their faces alight with impish smiles.
They are seated comfortably cross legged on a parapet, with the tail of their sarees covering their heads. When asked about the naissance of their hometown’s sobriquet, they are not in agreement! The lady in the yellow saree insists, as she adjust the saree on her head, that the houses are blue to honour Lords Shiva & Vishnu at their highest level of consciousness. The lady in white is sure that the first houses were painted blue under orders from Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur.
For such a small community to have so many different opinions of their fame, is not common to say the least.
It is on my way out of this maze that I meet two young best friends, lost in play with no care in the world. They ask for a picture, intrigued by my DSLR. When I happily oblige, they pose with their arms around each other in an embrace, a sight that made me smile for the umpteenth time that day. As I showed them their handsome young faces, that I captured as a memento, I think to ask them my rather controversial question, but they reply in unison- “I don’t know, they have always been blue!’
The reasons for the ‘blues’ of Jodhpur may not be the same, but keeping true to its infamous sobriquet, people continue to paint them the only colour they’ve known their homes to be.