Shailaza Singh bumps into Maria Jose Padgett, a 26-year old dress and jewelry designer from Texas, who works with Jaipur’s artisans to develop dresses and jewelry for American customers,
‘You know what is the most amazing thing I love about Jaipur? Sometimes, the façade or the entrance of the building looks so ordinary and plain that nothing prepares you for the beautiful textures or interiors.’ The speaker was Maria Jose Padgett, a 26-year old dress and jewellery designer from Texas.
Sometimes, serendipity strikes and the chance encounters with strangers from a different country help you to gain a new perspective about your own country. Something similar happened to me as I sat sipping coffee in Anokhi Café. Since there was a dearth of tables, I was sharing a table with Maria Jose Padgett, who frequently visits Jaipur for her designer brand ‘Zindagi’.
‘I love Bollywood movies. I saw this movie, ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,’ and decided to name my brand ‘Zindagi’ because just like life, my jewellery and dresses are completely unique. No piece repeats itself.’
‘I originally am from Honduras and my sisters and me live in Texas in USA. I first came to India in 2014 with my ex-boyfriend’s mother. She is now a fashion designer and she introduced me to the world of fashion. I visited the Janpath market in New Delhi and there I saw the most amazing jhumkis (earrings). I decided to explore more and visited Jaipur. I was amazed at the style and variety of jewellery and dresses. Soon, I decided to create my own brand ‘Zindagi’. Earlier I used to buy jewellery and ready made clothes from here and sell them in the States. In 2017, I actually started designing my own jewellery and clothes and came back to Jaipur. Now I come every six months or so to work on my designs with the artisans who live here.’
I asked her about her impressions of Jaipur. ‘Jaipur is so unlike Delhi. People here are so friendly and open. I don’t know if this is because I am a foreigner or something but I have always had people come up to me and talk to me. They have invited me to dinners and we’ve had long chats. The fact that I speak a little bit of Hindi also intrigues them. I have ended up making great friends with people from all walks of life. I spend most of my time with my artisans, the block printers and the jewellery creators here who create these amazing pieces of jewellery and dresses for me based on the designs I give them. Last week, I took their entire family to dinner. We’ve become such a close knit family now. When I am at work with them, we sing and play Bollywood songs and share our life stories. It is amazing that it was my driver who introduced me to these artisans and now they are such an integral part of my family.’
What else does she like about Jaipur? ‘I love raj kachori so much so that my friends call me ‘kachori’ now! Once when we were travelling to Jodhpur, we stopped at a road-side dhaba. I ordered raj kachori and chat much to the amusement of my friends who were travelling with me and since then my nickname is ‘Kachori’ , she laughs.
‘The thing about old Jaipur is that there are so many alleyways to explore that one leads to the other. Like the other day, I was in Jauhari Bazaar and I kept walking in and out of alleys and saw all these jewellery makers. Then I also like the way children still play games like tag and hopscotch outdoors in the evening. In Honduras, there are safety issues and children don’t play outside and in the States most of them so hooked on to their mobiles and i-pads that one does not see a lot of children playing these games. What I also like is the way people can open their barber shop or any other shop in the streets. In Texas, I don’t get to see much of that. Then I also love the way these artisans teach their craft to their children and how it runs in the families. I don’t get to see that much in the world. Here heritage is really valued and preserved.’
So, how did her parents react when she first proposed the idea of going to India in 2014. ‘When I came to India for the first time, my parents thought I would get kidnapped and they will never see me again. But my ex-boyfriend’s parents convinced them and they agreed. Now they are so used to it. In fact my mother and sisters have also visited Jaipur a couple of times and they have loved it!’
What does she think about Indian men? ‘The Indian men I am surrounded with are very protective and very respectful. With my artisans who are mostly men, they are so respectful towards me. I feel blessed to have them in my life.’
So, how do people in her country see India? ‘I wear the traditional Indian dresses when I go to weddings in my country and it intrigues people. They are intrigued by the fact that I visit India so often and they ask me about how India is and whether it is safe to visit and I tell them that India is an adventure and people here are very friendly and hospitable.’
So, how does she view life? ‘Life for me is ‘Zindagi’ where I am thankful for every blessing that has come my way. My work, my friends in three different countries, the warmth that I experience in this place have all been so fantastic. There are times I feel like buying a place of my own in Jaipur because I would want to get my children and grand children here and let them experience this unique and unforgettable city with all its warmth and love.’
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This article was published in Rashtradoot’s Arbit on October 1, 2019