April 15, 2016 1:29:33 am
Rajasthan’s art and heritage conservation movement lost a pioneer with the passing away of Jitendra Pal ‘John’ Singh, the co-founder of the cult craft-apparel store, Anokhi, and the Jaipur Virasat Festival.
A leading art and heritage conservator and a passionate biker, John was born on February 14, 1941. He passed away at the age of 75.
Anokhi, a craft-apparel store set up by John and his wife Faith, to promote the celebrated local textile arts of Sanganer and Bagru, went on to become his most successful venture. The brand, which started out in the 1960s and set up its first store in Jaipur in 1984, now has 26 stores across 17 Indian cities, along with stockists in 8 countries.
Anokhi is credited with reviving the local textile arts around Jaipur at a time when low-maintenance, cheap polyester had started flooding the Indian textile market.
The brand also has an all organic cafe in the heart of Jaipur, known for its delectable menu made from ingredients homegrown at the Anokhi Farm, Todi Ramzanipura in Jagatpura on the outskirts of Jaipur.
John is survived by his wife Faith, daughters Radha and Sia, son Pritam and daughter-in-law Rachel. “He was so multifaceted and helped so many people without taking anything in return. His biggest contribution according to me was the promotion of Rajasthani folk musicians. He gave them a world stage…the Rajasthan International Folk Festival was his brainchild,” recalled his sister, Jane Himmat Singh.
But why the English names?
“We were all born during British times and back then it was fashionable to name children that way. It was considered cool. So Jitendra was named John, my other brother Harendra was named Henry and I, Prafulla Kumari, was named Jane,” she said.
People also fondly recalled his contribution to heritage conservation at a time when the state government had not warmed up to the idea.
“It was during his efforts as convenor of INTACH that monuments like Nahargarh and Jantar Mantar in Jaipur were restored. He also restored an old Haveli using indigenous and scientific techniques which later became the Anokhi crafts museum,” said Dharmender Kanwar, author and convenor of INTACH, Jaipur chapter.
The couple brought innovation to the traditional art of block printing by bringing in designers from the National Institute of Design and even from the UK.
“When they started Anokhi, John and Faith single-handedly revived the local block printing arts at a time when they were dying out. A lot of businesses that are now selling block prints, learned the ropes from them,” she added.
Besides Anokhi, John, along with Faith, was instrumental in starting the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, which gave birth to the Jaipur Virasat Festival, which later transformed into the Jaipur Literature Festival, the city’s flagship international literary event.
“There is hardly any field to which he did not contribute, from art and heritage to folk music archiving to even tiger conservation,” said his close friend, Vinod Joshi.
Recalling his passion towards biking, Kanwar said: “He used to hold informal dirt track bike racing events at what is now Jaipur’s iconic Central Park.”
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