Nestled into the back of the ambassador taxi we hurtled through the orange dust of an Indian midnight from Delhi airport to Jaipur. Paloma was finally asleep in my lap, after her unfortunate decision to stay awake for most of the flight over. It only took one hour of breathing in the pollution and that unmistakable smell of India for me to feel like I had somehow come home. The holy cows lying hither and thither on the road, the warm air, the jangly coloured trucks with painted messages of ‘Honk Please’ and ‘Blow Horn’ on them – not that Indian drivers need a further invitation for tooting incessantly.
Jaipur, the fabled ‘Pink City’, ancient and crumbling and set in the dusty desert seduced us with her charms even by night. When we woke, we found it’s bazaars filled with treasures, city streets chaotic with wandering Sadhus, incense smoke and flower garlands with which I decorated my family for our immersion into our temporary Indian way of life. Paloma’s new mantra ‘Have no fear’ was evident when she asked to sit in her own seat behind the rickshaw driver who wove through the chaos with the same mantra, speeding between the sleepy cows and wandering pedestrians. Paloma laughed with delight as the rickshaw wallah swerved on the wrong side of the road over bumps and potholes, throwing her up and down, more fun than anything on offer at Birchgrove Park, watching the world swirl by like an natural globetrotter.
Today we are clad in matching pristine white kurta pyjamas ready to revel in the annual festival of colour known as Holi. Young boys race to the side of our bicycle rickshaw, liberally smearing our faces with neon pink, canary yellow and emerald green pigment powders.
Paloma is a hit and as soon as we have stepped from the rickshaw and entered the temple complex she is stolen away and covered with kisses, blessings and clouds of holi powder. She runs with the village children, chasing cheeky temple monkeys and posing for snaps with Indian families. Someone offers her a bag of powder and she delights in annointing everyone with her Holi blessings. We are swallowed by the melee and dance to the temple drums with the frenzied crowd, laughing all the time until our cheeks hurt.
Before long we have become top-to-toe walking rainbows. As we leave the beautiful and ornate Govind Devji temple, more festival-goers shower us with bursts of colour thrown up or pumped into the air with plastic pistols. Our rickshaw driver is getting as much attention as we are and he cycles us away to another part of town where painted elephants trumpet and sparkle in the descending sun outside the Old City walls.