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Taj Mahal: A tear suspended on the cheek of time
Taj Mahal has been very much a part of my growing up. And the connection may sound strange today.

During my childhood, some towns like Cawnpore in United Provinces did not have a university of their own. They were affiliated to Agra University. Come convocation time, trainloads of new graduates from the small towns would stream into Agra, all in a very festive mood. The train journey itself was a picnic, with sher shayari and sharing of home cooked goodies en route.

My graduating uncles and aunts always took me along. Early morning in Agra, each graduate would get into their black robes and doff their flat tasselled caps. Mightily pleased at themselves! No one seemed to be interested in the convocation speech by some British worthy, but were keen to receive their degrees with their handwritten names inscribed with a flowery flourish. The mundane business of the convocation being over, every one made a bee line to one of the numerous photo studios. The photographer ducked under a black shroud behind his huge bellows plate-camera. Soon he shouted, 'Now, don't move"! Pronto, the sensitive photo plate had captured you smiling or sober in your convocation robe, proudly holding the rolled up degree. The photos could be collected in the evening.

The real highlight of the day was the mandatory rush to the Taj Mahal for a group photograph, with monument to love in the background. In the process I made more trips to Agra than anyone of my uncles or aunts. I could claim more familiarity with the Taj than anyone in the family. I read several accounts about how the monument was built and what various perceptive visitors had to say.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote: "The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time."

Pakistani Nobel Laureate, physicist Dr Abdus Salam had this to say:  "It is good to recall that three centuries ago, around the year 1660, two of the greatest monuments of modern history were erected, one in the West and one in the East; St Paul's Cathedral in London and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Between them, the two symbolize, perhaps better than words can describe, the comparative level of architectural technology, the comparative level of craftsmanship and the comparative level of affluence and sophistication the two cultures had attained at that epoch of history. But about the same time there was also created—and this time only in the West—a third monument, a monument still greater in its eventual import for humanity. This was Newton's Principia, published in 1687. Newton's work had no counterpart in the India of the Mughals."

Having also seen London's magnificent Cathedral, I slightly differ with Dr Salam. Visually the sublime simplicity of the outlines of Taj Mahal against the blue sky, make the monument outshine other iconic structures of the world. Taj is sheer poetry in stone! And Taj by the full moon casts its own magic spell on love birds. Nevertheless, Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi lamented:

'Ek shahansh?h ne daulat ka sahara le kar,

Ham gharibon ki mohabbat ka udaaya hai mazak'

Writer philosopher Aldous Huxley had a different take on Taj Mahal. In our textbook we had an essay from his 'Jesting Pilate'.

On seeing Taj, he wrote, 'Marble, I perceive, covers a multitude of sins.'

What he was alluding to was not clear. Of course, during his 1913 trip to India Huxley was generally disgusted with the country 'India is depressing as no other country I have ever known. One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness. A little less spirituality and the Indians would now be free - free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools.'

About Taj he has also written: 'These four thin tapering towers are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands.' What made him think that the four minars looked ugly beats me.

Since decades we have been reading controversies raised by PN Oak and others, about Taj Mahal and other structures. These are best left to scholars and archaeologists. And we should learn from our mistakes of the past. Left to ideologues and rabble rousers, they can only lead to disruption and become serious detractions from the onerous task of nation building. Wish the same fervour was shown by them towards employment, poverty, health, agriculture, etc.

For those who harp too much on their past, an anonymous wise man has cautioned - 'Those who live too much in the glory of their past, prove only one thing – they are better dead, than alive'.

Anyway, for the time being, let us see what the government's own website has to say about the Taj Mahal. Well, it has gone into rapturous poesy! Sample some extracts here:

'Come, walk along the pathway beside the reflecting pool with fountains up to the mausoleum crafted in soft & pure and jewelled with semi precious stones, where in the serenity of paradise rests the Queen in peace with her King. Come to unfold the pages to churn the charm out of its mystique and enrich your imagination about this marvel of an epic in stone, The Taj! …….

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder! Probably for Taj Mahal, the axiom is just the other way round. Taj is the beauty personified. ….

Picturesque descriptions by historians contemporary to the period of its making, the facts revealed by the scholars & archaeologists of today and the panoramic montage of the reasons behind the making are sketched with every step you would walk towards the mausoleum, the next time you visit The Taj!

A look this time at the Taj will keep you indulged with thoughts superimposing your sight and would make you feel the presence of Shah Jahan, the Maker and Mumtaz Mahal, the Reason, as though walking along with you.

If one has a heart that beats and that beat throbs to seek, the purity of love in galore! Surely one deserves a visit to 'The Taj', as much as 'The Taj' deserves your visit once and more! …. Come fall in love every time!!!!' (emphasis webwriter's)

At least for now, Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan need not turn in their marbled graves!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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