Jaipur Travel Diary: When New Orleans came to Savista, All on a Mardi Gras Day
When documentary film maker Royce Osborn, his artist wife Dama, and anesthesiologist sister Dr. Irene Osborn – all hailing from New Orleans – booked into Savista for a vacation, they were doing so on the recommendation of their elder brother Alton who had stayed with us last year. Within the space of just a few months with all the Osborn siblings connecting with Savista, New Orleans and the Osborns became a part of our extended family.
Alton is a man of many parts. Among them, former jazz musician and sports star and currently fashion designer, including of sports wear. He now runs a boutique fashion store in New Orleans, which is a watering hole for jazz musicians, show biz and sports celebrities, and other associates from his multiple past careers.
His trip to Jaipur had been in pursuit of the magic of hand printed designs. Wandering around the chhipa mohalla (printers neighbourhood) of the village of Bagru, he felt deeply moved by the simplicity of the lives of the printers whose workshops and homes he visited, and the warmth with which they welcomed him and showed him their products and processes. He was impressed by the intricacy of their printing and dyeing methods that relied on nature – vibrant natural colours, the heat and light of the sun, and dryness of the air – and by what he saw as their struggle to preserve and sustain the integrity of their craft and way of life in the face of major odds. He also explored the community of screen printers and their techniques that he encountered in Sanganer and Jaipur.
When he left, it was with the promise to return within the year, with a view to possibly pursue a collaboration with a local screen printer. All of us are familiar with the feeling of wanting to return soon to a place that we have felt a great sense of connect with. But more often than not, it doesn’t happen.
Alton did not come this year. But he sent us a gift instead. His wonderful siblings – Royce and Irene – and Royce’s wife Dama. The warmth, friendship and affection that the younger Osborns brought into their interactions at Savista were a treasure. Their presence stimulated wide-ranging conversations about art and films, the connections between human physiology and consciousness-awareness, Nelson Mandela and the human spirit (we collectively mourned the day of Mandela’s passing), New Orleans before and after Katrina… Royce and Dama had lived through the worst days of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, evacuating only briefly to L.A., and we were able to learn a great deal from them first hand about what happened at the time. Royce – the quintessential documentary writer and film maker of all aspects of New Orleans, his native city – had documented the city’s cultural revival following Hurricane Katrina through his film “Walking To New Orleans” that he wrote and produced.
When we exchanged goodbyes, Royce generously gifted his award winning film “All On A Mardi Gras Day” to Savista’s film collection. This film which won Royce the Louisiana Filmmaker Award at the 2003 New Orleans Film and Video Festival, was broadcast nationally on PBS, and continues to be used as a teaching tool in schools and colleges. The film brings alive aspects of New Orleans’ history and diversity that are not so widely known, namely the coming together of native Indian and African cultures in the face of colonialism and slavery, to forge and preserve a unique expression of their identity.
“All On A Mardi Gras Day” celebrates black Carnival in New Orleans in all its riotous, colorful and spiritual glory. Incorporating classic New Orleans music, previously-unseen photographs and film footage, and interviews with major Carnival players, the film explores African-Creole Carnival traditions. These celebrations date from colonial times, and continue into the 21st century. The men and women who make Mardi Gras happen in the black community include the Indians and the Skeletons, the Baby Dolls and the Second Liners, the marching bands and flambeaux carriers, and the Kings and Queens of Zulu. The songs, stories, costumes and dance reveal a living, unique folk art culture.
New Orleans has been called the “most African of cities in the United States.” These Carnival traditions clearly are rooted in an African-Caribbean-Creole culture that is unique to the Crescent City, and have had an enormous impact on the music and culture of New Orleans – and beyond. Mardi Gras — “the greatest free show on earth” — has been part of New Orleans culture for more than 200 years, and has attracted millions of visitors from around the world. But few tourists – and even natives have witnessed the culmination of the Carnival celebration that is part of the city’s black culture.
Those interested in a copy of the film can write directly to Royce: