“LET INDIA not hang its head in shame on 07-07-07.” For a few moments, this e-mail left me perplexed. I could see it was a chain mail. Crisscrossing continents, the mail, with a bureaucratic beginning, had finally reached me. It was an appeal from an Indian Information Officer. And the last time it was diverted, it was from a scribe friend from the serene lands of the Sultanate of Oman.
Allow me to leapfrog straight to the point. For, do we have the time? Taj needs its admirers to act now.
For centuries, Taj lovers have leaned on the monument to draw inspiration. Today, the monument of love is banking on its admirers to hold on to its pristine glory.
“Are you aware that our beloved Taj Mahal is 30 crores votes short of being voted into the new Wonders of the World… Please inform at least 25 members of your family/friends/biz associates to do so,” the mail exhorted.
“Please do it at the earliest and cast your valuable vote to Taj at www.new7wonders.com as soon as possible,” it added. (The deadline ends on July 6 as the results of the poll will be announced the next day in Lisbon, Portugal). It’s only then we’ll come to know whether the Taj makes it to the Seven Wonders list or not.
Fortunately, until now, Taj figures on the top 10 so far, going by what is arguably the world’s first-ever global vote. The top contenders so far are the Great Wall, the Colosseum and Machu Picchu, with votes reportedly cast, already, by more than 50 million people.
Cut to the monument of love. To an Indian, Taj is part of the individual as well as collective consciousness. The movies, the folklore, the innumerable replicas that adorn our drawing rooms, the text books, young lovers comparing their beau with the Taj, popular songs as paeans to the monument, they all are an intrinsic part of the Indian experience.
But today, when Taj needs us, are we there? Surfing the net for hours and hours, have we bothered to cast just one vote for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s magnificent ode to love?
But is it the first time we will fail Taj (that is if we fail to post the required votes)?
I am afraid, the answer could be ‘no’.
In 2004, Taj turned 350. The city of Agra, where it is located, has — like most other cities in India — struggled to cope with pollution. With the high levels of carbon monoxide in the air, Taj was diagnosed with a life threatening-disease called ‘Marble Cancer’. In fact, an Indian parliamentary committee had found that air pollution monitoring and curbs on nearby industrial activities had failed to prevent the monument from turning yellow. It is an open secret that the challenge is insurmountable, given the lax attitude of the civic authorities over the years, spanning different governments.
In yet another blow to Taj, the provincial government, some years ago, planned to develop parks, shopping complexes and markets along the banks of the River Yamuna between Taj Mahal and Agra Fort (the other monument of great historical significance in Agra), without seeking clearance from the Environment Ministry, and putting the very life of the monument in danger. By the time the media exposed this grave threat to the existence of the monument, it was late. The damage to Taj, according to some environmentalists, was already done.
Taj has been in the thick of some uncalled-for controversies as well. There have been claims and counter-claims about the ownership of the monument. A BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh (the state where Taj is located) had claimed, a couple of years ago, that Taj was actually a Shiva temple built by Raja Jai Singh and was named ‘Tejo Mai Mahal’.
Not to be left behind in the “real estate” dispute was the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board (which maintains unclaimed Muslim property), which had not long ago claimed that Taj was Waqf property and that it should get the right to control and manage it.
Adding twist to that controversy, the Shia community in Lucknow (capital of Uttar Pradesh) claimed that the 17th century monument was a Shia property, as Mumtaz Mahal, in whose name it was built, hailed from that community!
Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask all these gentlemen just one straight question today: Have you voted for the Taj?
For, Taj is not just part of our heritage — it’s a symbol of the great melting pot of cultures that India is. We Indians are a nation of a billion-plus. Isn’t it the time to act? Can we let the Taj down?
(This article first appeared on the Edit page of the Khaleej Times newspaper on June 21, 2007. Below please find the web link of the article and the copy of the write-up)