October’s Art in Udaipur

Jahnavi Zondervan, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of the author)

Art is a big part of my every day life. I hardly do anything without getting art involved, be it doodling on my AIF notebook, watercoloring in my bed, or crocheting while watching TV. So, this month, I wanted to show my experiences by way of the art I’ve created, from AIF orientation in Delhi to the end of October in Udaipur. Thus, I have compiled my drawings and paintings and written about them and what they were inspired by.



TW: there is a short mention of mental health and suicide struggles at the end of the post.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper. (All photos courtesy of the author)

Michael’s Flower

Orientation began at JFK airport. I dragged my suitcase over to a girl in bandana and glasses, figuring only another AIF fellow would have that many bags. From there, my sense of community only grew. The AIF fellows I have met are some of the strongest, funniest, most creative and diverse people I have met in my life, and I felt so grateful to share a space with them. Whether it was watching Bollywood movies in someone’s room, having a dance party in the empty conference hall, or everyone in the chat telling us to stop asking questions so we could hurry up and eat dinner, there was never a dull moment. Any time and any situation, someone was there to support someone else. I can’t count how many times someone was speaking about orientation and accidentally said “the last few months” instead of “the last few days”, because it really felt like we had known each other forever.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper.



Udaipur Old City

On my first Sunday off, I did what I always do on a day off in the U.S.; find a coffee shop, pull out my watercolors, and paint whatever I find on my phone. I’m not much of a tourist, I like to appear wherever and wander. I meandered down a tiny road to the water, onto a large platform through a beautifully carved arch (Gangaur Ghat) where I took a picture of a gorgeous palace area (City Palace). At a local cafe, Jheel’s, I ordered a black coffee (there was no oat milk), sat down, and got to painting with a view of the water. “Ithna accha! [so good!]” A little boy said, as his mom pulled him away from watching over my shoulder. I smiled.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper.

Kamla Ji

One of the highlights of my experience so far this month has been getting to know my coworkers. I work at a women’s organization, so it comes at no surprise that the women here are some of the strongest and most badass I’ve met. On one of my first days, I heard Poojaji, our finance director, schooling people on the phone (“next time you cannot take orders without a bill, got that?”). One day Kamlaji, who is in charge of the women’s helpline, sat outside, telling a whole story to my colleague so quietly I heard none of it. She is in charge of the helpline, and the next day she picked up the phone and could be heard through the whole office telling a man off (“what did you complain about me for? Did I insult you? If I did you can tell it to me.”) I watched a goodbye ceremony for a colleague who had been with Vikalp since her days in the village itself. As she hugged the founders, she began to cry. I knew then there was no doubt that everyone here supports and cares for each other without any judgment, and I feel it every day.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper.


As I do not have an easy way to get back and forth from the office to hotel yet, I currently get a ride to the bus stop by my colleagues. We pile up on a motorcycle and wind through the streets at what feels like top speed. I sit in the far back carrying everyone’s bags and clutching the bottom bar of the motorcycle seat. At first, they joked about how terrified I was on the back of the bike “ithna darthi hai, ithna chilathi hai jaise mein utta ke le rahi hoon! [she screams so much, as if she’s being kidnapped!]” But soon, it became a peaceful routine, watching the sun set behind the fields or feeling the temperature suddenly drop when we pass a forested area. I can feel dust in my hair, my teeth, my throat; and yet, I love the rush of air, the open motion, watching cars stop for cows and women in colorful Rajasthani clothes.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023.Acrylic on paper.

A Day at the Learning Center

Easily, the highlight of the month has been a day spent at the Learning Center in the village of Girdharipura. There, I was able to observe and participate in the day to day lessons of the children. The very first thing students did was say a prayer. The teacher, Vidya, said, “Everyone close your eyes, and no peeking, concentrate!” and, as children are wont to do, most of the kids peaked. But, one student, maybe six or seven years old, sat with the concentration of a meditation expert. He mouthed the words along to the prayer with an expression of pure peace and absorption.

At the learning center, I got the chance to lead an art and emotions workshop. Students identified colors and emotions associated with them (red = angry, blue = sad) and created a color wheel. For each emotion, we brainstormed how we react to our feelings, and what might be better, healthier reactions. I asked students how they reacted when they were angry, and most of them mentioned fighting and hitting. Mostly the older students answered, while the younger students were shy. Everyone was absorbed in coloring. Then, one student took another’s crayon, and that student hit them back. Suddenly, everyone turned and smiled knowingly- here was a perfect example! Then I knew that even though they were shy and absorbed and my Hindi was a little spotty, they were listening and considering.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Rock paints on paper.

Rajasthani Miniatures Art Lesson

On another Sunday, I trekked back to the old city to take a traditional Rajasthani miniatures art class. I learned how to paint with traditional metal and rock paints and tiny, curved brushes. “Aap miniatures seekhne aaye ho, art seekhne nahi, hai na? [You’ve just come to learn miniatures, not art, huh?]” the teacher said to me. I smiled, yes, I had only come to learn the specific style, to explore more traditional lenses of art. But that’s not to say it wasn’t challenging! Teeny tiny borders made my wrists cramp. One tremor of my hand and I had smudged an entire design. I shrugged. He shook his head, scolding me. “Once you let a mistake go, you’ll always think it’s ok to make a little mistake and you won’t improve.” I smiled. It was interesting to think of art as that disciplined of a subject. I always feel judgement has no place in art, and mistakes make art what it is.

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper.

While we drew, I spoke with the teacher. I told him I was in Udaipur working at an NGO, and I came to learn that his son had committed suicide. He told me that the experience made him want to reach out and do social work to help others. I mentioned my project and plan to create a wall painting in tandem with students, and that I would love to get him involved, especially in exposing the children to traditional arts. He said he wouldn’t even take full payment to work with NGOs, he just wanted to reach out. It was important for me to think about how mental health affects people who maybe don’t have the same vocabulary about it that we do in the U.S. How many people have lost or had family hurt due to mental health they weren’t able to identify?

Jahnavi Zondervan, 2023. Watercolor on paper.

This month has been one of amazing growth and exploration, and I am so grateful to be in a vibrant, culture rich, inspiring city like Udaipur. I am looking forward to more learning, more art, and more experience!

About the Author:
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently residing in Princeton, New Jersey, Jahnavi Zondervan is a recent graduate of Columbia University. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a Concentration in African American and African Diasporic Studies in October 2022. In addition to her academic achievements, Jahnavi is a gifted artist and painter, showcasing her creativity and talent through various projects. Notably, she served as a Mural Artist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, creating a public art display to commemorate the memory of local high school alumni, demonstrating her commitment to bring communities together through art. Jahnavi is equally passionate about education and social justice, as evidenced by her role as a Teaching Artist for the Institute of Music and Girl Be Heard, where she taught art through themes of social justice, identity, and belonging. Her work as a Coordinator and Mentor for the Big Sibs Program in Harlem reflects her dedication to providing guidance, and promoting the growth of young students. Jahnavi hopes to continue to become an art therapist, working with young children and positively impacting their psychological development.



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