Tripti Pandey is a well-known name in the field of culture and tourism in India. Awarded the Gold Cross by the President of Austria for fostering the cultural relationship between Austria and India, Pandey is a recipient of the Maharajah Bishen Singh Award by the Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust, for creating the Desert Festival and for pioneering the promotion of the intangible heritage of Rajasthan.

An avid travel writer, Pandey completed her master’s in the history of ancient India and Indian culture, and has also studied tourism management in Salzburg, Austria. She has a deep interest in the promotion of tourism in India, with a focus on living traditions and intangible heritage. She has designed many festivals involving India’s rich legacy of folk arts and craft, traditional festivals and textiles.

In this exclusive interview, she speaks to us about her earliest childhood influences, the various books she has authored over the years and the work she has done with traditional performers.

Tripti Pandey.

IC: You hail from an illustrious family of writers, actors, theatre persons, media and the arts. Tell us about some of your earliest childhood influences.

TP: Needless to say that my parents and all my siblings were some of my earliest childhood influences. It will be difficult to pinpoint each but to sum up, in a big family it was a kaleidoscope of many images and many sounds!

IC: You have spearheaded various international festivals, like The Desert Festival in Jaisalmer. Tell our readers more about them and their various activities.

TP: I had done my Management in Tourism in Salzburg, and both the city in particular and Austria as a whole inspired me to think of something that would promote our rich living arts and the beautiful destinations contributing to the economy of the land. I also was keen to focus on traditional festivals during the season that could attract visitors.

IC: In the past, you have also compiled research collections and exhibitions on the coverings for women.

TP: It was during my travels across Rajasthan that I was drawn to the vibrant colour of turbans and odhnies, the veil cloth or head coverings. I wanted to go into unfolding the story beyond the colours. Initially, I wanted to collect turbans, but before I could undertake the work, certain museums had already started collecting them. As an individual, one can have ideas but realise them only with the help of financial support.

It was a spontaneous call from within to collect odhnies as I was noticing the changes coming to the fabric from the colours. I realised that this piece of attire could help in identifying the nuances of culture and traditions. I started collecting inexpensive ones from villages and then got on with more expensive ones from Rajput families.

I began with Rajasthan, but then extended beyond the borders. The exhibition held in India and abroad kept away from selling anything, for it was meant only to unfold our intangible heritage. Our exhibitions were keeping in mind to make it a live experience. It was shown in museums in Germany and Hungary.

IC: Tell us briefly about the books you have written, Where Silence Sings: Sounds and Rhythms of Rajasthan (HarperCollins, 1999), Rajasthan’s Silver Jewelry (Rupa, 2003), Pushkar: Colours of the Indian Mystique (Variety Books, 2004) and India’s Elephants: A Cultural Legacy (Penguin, 2017).

TP: All my books are aimed at promoting our living traditions and intangible heritage. India’s Elephants: A cultural Legacy, in particular, takes the reader to the cultural corridor, unfolding mythology and history and embracing literature and the arts. It has been an award winner in the category of art/coffee table books. 

IC: Tell us more about the work you have done with traditional performers, especially the kalbelias (gypsy group), snake charmers, dholanis (chamber singers) and, of course, mahouts (elephant keepers).

TP: I am happy to say that the story of kalbelias from street entertainers to the world stage will bring up my name as well as the name of yet another creative associate Mr Himmat Singh, a theatre artist. We got deeply involved in their day-to-day lives. The dholanies or chamber singers of the Rajput princely clans and feudal lords interested me for their huge repertoire of songs, so we connected with them and conducted a workshop with them. Today, there are just a handful of them left.

Mahouts as a clan may perish, but the elephants will be around. All I can say is that from trees to animals, Indian culture has for centuries included nature worship. We cannot and must not be guided by foreign elements who have no appreciation for our culture.

IC: Who are some women that inspire you?

TP: Since I am a worshiper of the Mother Goddess, I will say all women, and the most important figure in my life, my mother Bhagwati. Incidentally, one of the names of the Mother Goddess is Bhagwati.

IC: What are you working on next?

TP: This year my novel, a historical fiction, is being published by Penguin. Another story from Rajasthan, I am eagerly looking forward to it, as I have been working on it for the last few years.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She has worked for over a decade in print, television, and online media. Her diverse interests in the culture beat include books, music, travel, films,...