From showbiz to ancestral fort, a Meja-stic heritage mission for this Rajasthan woman
The former media professional is revamping her family’s pride.jaipur Updated: Mar 25, 2018 22:18 IST
From developing content for television shows, such as Kaun Banega Crorepati and India’s Got Talent, to revamping her ancestral fort, it has been a fulfilling journey for Priyamvada Singh.
In 2012, the 35-year-old media professional took an impromptu trip to her village Meja, 15 km from Bhilwara in Rajasthan, during a break from work. She was so taken in by the condition of her ancestral fort that she decided to pack her bags in Mumbai permanently and stay in the 143-year-old edifice of her family’s pride.
In 5 years, she has restored the old glory of the fort at Meja and set up a community library for the villagers with donations from her friends and family. She is inviting her friends from the media to turn the small village into a cultural hub where they blend with villagers to create mutual opportunities.
She has also developed 10 rooms of the fort into a modest lodging where villagers from different walks of life will offer warmth and hospitality to their guests. The rooms will be ready for occupation soon.
Priyamvada Singh’s efforts were rewarded by the ICICI Bank in February this year. The bank chose 25 women through a nationwide search of 18,500 case studies, and actor Vidya Balan gave away the Advantage Woman Award to them. Priyamvada was awarded for heritage conservation and social uplift.
In 2012, the decision of Priyamvada to stay alone in a 55-room fort with a broken boundary wall, countless bats and cobwebs didn’t find favour with her parents. Her father, Jitendra Singh, who retired as a bureaucrat in the state government in 2016, didn’t want her to quit her showbiz career just when it was peaking. He and his father, Hamir Singh, who was in the Indian Railways and passed away in 2014, couldn’t look after the family fort themselves.
But Priyamvada didn’t want to change her decision to give the Meja fort a makeover and conserve heritage. For renovation, she looked for old masons who were experts in traditional construction styles like dry masonry instead of plaster and lime paste instead of paint. Local women joined her to work on the project.
“From a personal project, it soon became a community initiative. The women enjoyed doing something away from the domestic chores and the masons found employment,” remembers Priyamvada, an alumna of Mayo Girls School and Sophia College, Ajmer.
After two years of work and when some rooms became livable, she invited a friend, Vijayeta Kumar, to Meja for shooting her first short film. Vijayeta, an alumna of Jamia Milia Islamia’s AJ Kidwai Mass Communication Research Center, New Delhi, had assisted some directors on their Hindi feature films and television commercials.
She shot Blouse, a 20-minute film on a newlywed woman’s demand for a blouse from a famous tailor of Meja, in the village and even gave some villagers an opportunity to feature in it. The film, premiered at the 2014 New York Indian Film Festival, won the award for the best short film.
Now, as the Meja fort is set to turn into a cozy home stay, Priyamvada, married in 2014, shuttles between the village and Ajmer where her son stays with his grandparents. Priyamvada’s husband, Vijayendra Chandra Deb, is a businessman based in Odisha.
She says he appreciates her work and is supportive in managing the long-distance relationship.