The whiteness vandalizes the senses as I gaze at this architectural splendor from the prism of the entrance arch. On closer view the white is flecked with browns and greys and burrowed settings once embellished with precious and semi precious stones. I savor the fluidic elegance of ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time‘* and wonder how long will it take for the present pollution level to stymie the Taj into a giant tear drop.
It is amazing how this venerated love monument has taken on the rampaging composition of pollution, population and political sentiments……the prayer caps and picnicking families, the gullible tourists* (foreigners pay Rs. 700 as compared with Rs. 20 for locals), the never-ending queues of admirers listening to guides crochet VIP visits ‘Princess of Wales sat on this very seat’ with the history of the monument, the workmanship, the conspiracy theories of Shah Jahan hijacking a Hindu monument, whether it is a ‘monument of devotion’ or simply a Mughal conquerors statement.
Agra played a central role in Mughal history, forfeited its capital status to Delhi in 1637. with its cache of Mughal architecture such as Fathepur Sikri the city built by Akbar, the tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daula, Sikandra 13 miles from the Great Red Fort of Agra from where an imprisoned Shah Jahan would view the Taj Mahal through a piece of glass and the Taj Mahal, constructed in 1631.
This was my fifth visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal in last 40 years and on this visit the Taj took on the hue of the protagonist of hypothetical murder mysteries revolving around religious conflicts, secret organizations, assassinations and the world of dancers and dons. In real scenario the main burial site of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan is off-limits to tourists and I tried to visualize the action as I strolled on the paved pathways searching for hidden clues. The surrounding narrow and congested lanes, the dilapidated Mina Bazaar near the entrance to the Taj, the gardens turned into farms, crowded parking lots, the colorful modes of transport, the varied cuisine are props for an actionized duplicate.
The real is marbleized photo-op for visitors.
* Rabindranath Tagore
*The Taj Mahal is visited by nearly 2-4 million visitors annually with over 200,000 from overseas.