My earliest recollections of Jodhpur are of merunning through the jaali (lattice) corridors of the zanana (women’s) section of my home, the Ajit Bhawan, into my grandmother’s lap. She was the central figure of the house, surrounded by a constant buzz of activity—it was a multifaceted world where women were the decision-makers, surrounded by textile merchants from Benaras, jewellers from across India, perfumers with their delicate bottles, and waves of ladies who would come to pay respects to her, not only since she was married into the Jodhpur family, but also because she was the sister of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
From here, I would find my way to my mother’s chambers, where she would let me muddle my hands with paints and canvas that she put to good use during her time in purdah, while training me how to sketch and draw. In contrast, the mardana (men’s) section on the ground floor level had a strong sense of masculinity both in atmosphere and architecture, a contrast to the delicately-designed upper floor.
Surrounded by an unparalleled history, where each brick carries the story of the humble beginnings of our family, as well as the history of this part of Rajasthan, Ajit Bhawan was built in 1927. It is nestled between the Umaid Bhawan Palace that sits on a hill and the Mehrangarh Fort that towers over Jodhpur, as a guardian of the city. Between the two World Wars, when Duke Ellington was a rage and the Ford Model A car was first introduced to the world, the palace was fashioned with a distinct regional look and served as residence of the then Prime Minister of Jodhpur, Maharaja Ajit Singh, the younger brother of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. The red sandstone architecture was designed to accommodate the family’s lifestyle and also the moods of the desert of Marwar—large rooms surrounding a rectangular courtyard in the centre of the building, while annexes and staff quarters lay beyond these walls. The property’s grand dome, flanked by smaller domes in its four corners, has made it recognisable anywhere in the world today.
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