Our “Gujarat Waterscapes Workshop” started not in Gujarat state at all, but in Mumbai. Our first week began with meetings at AKPBSI, our partner organization, and familiarization with what I’ve decided will be one of my new favorite cities. Mumbai fits all of my criteria: colors, vibrancy, great food, local identity and global diversity.
After a short time in Mumbai we zoomed in- or, scaled down- flying to the city of Jamnagar in Gujarat. At a population of 200,000, a tiny fraction of Mumbai or even Chennai, I was worried that the small town would be dull in comparison. Our group was thrilled to discover quite the opposite – as the capital of a former princely state, Jamnagar has a rich collection of historic architecture that’s matched by the cheerful chaos of its markets and street life. Since our student group happened to be all-female (that is, excluding our professor), we were also pleased to discover that the area’s famed bandhani scarves could be bought for a dollar or two each.
As compared to Mumbai, an international metropolis, Jamnagar also had the feeling of being truly Indian. Its rare to find a place on this planet that has a healthy local economy not immersed with western retail. In fact, in my entire trip to India I think I’ve only seen 2 McDonalds, only in Mumbai, and not a single Starbucks outside of the airport. Also, outside Mumbai, almost every woman is dressed in traditional India attire; generally a draped sari for married women, or a tunic-style kurta for younger ladies. These come in every color of the rainbow, with embellishments ranging from gold and silver embroidery to carefully placed mirrors and sequins. (If I thought I could get away with it, I think I would have replaced my entire wardrobe with Indian garb.) While men are generally dressed in a western style (or, more correctly, western-style clothing dated a few decades), traditional tunics and kilt-style bottoms were not uncommon. As India works to enter the ranks of developed nations, it will be interesting to see whether it can maintain its own identity in a way that many countries have not.
From Jamnagar, we scaled down again, to our fieldwork site of Jivapar- which I’ll discuss in detail in my next post.