chapter  7
Sweetness and light: The bright side of pluralism in a Rajasthan town
Pages 25

The municipality of Jahazpur is the administrative seat of a sub-district (tehsil) in provincial Rajasthan. With numerous government offices, and a hospital, Jahazpur is a regional hub for services unavailable in villages. Jahazpur’s bus stand and streets are crammed with shopping opportunities of every kind. Rural and town lives have long intersected commercially in these lively markets. Twenty-first-century Jahazpur culture exists in perpetual engagement with national and transnational flows of goods, images, jobs, news, money, and much more. It is networked both literally and figuratively. Yet Jahazpur is undeniably and self-consciously a ‘provincial’ place: mofussil, or – as local people are much more likely to say, using the English words – a ‘backward area’. I lived in Jahazpur from early August 2010 through the middle of June 2011.

My fieldwork methods combined traditional participant observation with unstructured interviews. I worked in close association with Bhoju Ram Gujar, a government school headmaster with whom I have done collaborative ethnographic research since 1980; throughout the text I refer to him as Bhoju. Other real names are not disclosed here. Five sections follow. I first describe Jahazpur, a qasba or market town, and characterize its non-rural, non-urban nature. Next I introduce two useful definitions of, and approaches to, pluralism that will inform this chapter’s third segment: an ethnographic account of six festivals. A fourth section briefly treats dramatic and traumatic recollected ruptures in Jahazpur’s peaceful society. In closing, I offer some simple observations of everyday commonalities and mutually cordial recognitions among the town’s distinct communities, suggesting that these provide habitual foundations for ordinary pluralism as the fabric of civic life.