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And again Taj!

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And Again Taj!, “Dr.Chakravarthi’’, Passenger Train. At the mundane level this Taj Mahal, alas, cannot compete with the Taj Mahal in my mind. Its grandeur was enriched by Tagore, when he said: “It is a tear of melody glistening on the cheek of time’’.

At the mundane level this Taj Mahal, alas, cannot compete with the Taj Mahal in my mind. Its grandeur was enriched by Tagore, when he said: “It is a tear of melody glistening on the cheek of time’’.

It was 52 years back that I visited Taj Mahal. I was 24 then and my wife was 22. There was another person with us; my eldest son, a 10-month-old baby. I visited the Taj last month for the second time. We were three again; me, my wife and my eldest son. He is 51 now.

I had joined All India Radio those days. I was sent to Delhi soon after for a training course. My salary then was Rs. 260. But I did the screenplay for the film “Dr.Chakravarthi’’ and hence my pockets were reasonably stuffed. My training course was at Akashwani Bhavan in Parliament Street. In the evenings my wife used to take the bus from Karol Bagh, where I used to stay, with the baby and a basket containing milk powder, spoons, napkins, feeding bottle, etc., and stand at the Reserve Bank of India bus stop. Coming out of the office, we used to engage an auto and go about the Diplomatic Enclave, Teen Murti House, Parliament, India Gate, the North and South Blocks, Rashtrapathi Bhavan, etc.
We had only one Sunday in between. We decided to visit the Taj Mahal. As fate would have it, there was a storm with very heavy downpour that day. But we had no choice as that was the only chance we had. It was then or never. We decided to brave the storm. A passenger train leaves Old Delhi station at 11 PM and reaches Agra in the morning. Agra station in those days (1963) was a shelterless, exposed place with winds and rain gushing in from all sides. We were drenched. The only dry patch was the baby in my wife’s hands. We reached a hotel and engaged a tonga. Ramlal was its driver and a lanky, languid woman Nanda was his wife. They virtually lived in the vehicle. They took us around Itmad-ud-Doula, Red Fort, Dayalbagh and then to Taj Mahal.
We took a turn raving to see the seventh wonder of the world. In the unending downpour, it was a grey, dull, lifeless tomb. Was this the Taj Mahal we longed to see? My heart sank. I wished somebody would come to me and assure me that this was not the seventh wonder of the world, after all. This was dull, desolate, forlorn and looked even forbidding.
Soon my misgiving gave me the reason. This so-called ‘wonder’ came to life in 1653- some 300 years back. It has been losing its sheen and glitz ever since, wearing out each day, while the Taj Mahal in my mind is ever-beautiful, ever-glorious and ever-appealing. It is as enchanting as my imagination can fly, as exciting as my mind can enrich and as great as my mental fluidity can shape it in my mind’s eye. What is before my eyes is an ever-dying edifice while the one in my mind is an ever-glowing one. At the mundane level this Taj Mahal, alas, cannot compete with the Taj Mahal in my mind. Its grandeur was enriched by Tagore, when he said: “It is a tear of melody glistening on the cheek of time’’. My mind has an in-built mechanism to enhance its glory each time a new nuance is added to it. It is a carefully nurtured, well manicured image while the one before my eyes is a physical edifice deteriorating ever since it came into existence. It has all the limitations of time, decay and even redundancy.
And then the ghastly storm that engulfed us made it even more loathfull. For five decades I have visited Delhi on several occasions but I could never bring myself to visit Taj again. But recently, I was invited by the Delhi Telugu Academy to honour me with the Life Time Achievement Award. Then I told myself: Why not now? When I told my son about our plans and the fact that we had seen the Taj for the only time with him in our hands, he offered to join us.
Now, there is a wonderful Yamuna Expressway that takes you to Agra in two and half hours. On a sunny day, again the three of us travelled to see Taj Mahal. Now I am a celebrity and hundreds of Telugu tourists were thrilled to find me there. They had a field day with the Taj and Gollapudi, a veritable bonus. Several cameras clicked. Several new faces lit up with surprise and joy.
My wife, 72 now, refused to walk the distance and settled in a tree shade. My son, guided his parents, brought us to the monument, gave a gorgeous lunch and took us back to the five star comfort at Delhi.
But, surprisingly, it never took my breath away even now. Somewhere inside my heart, I was reconciled to the marvel. Why? I was judging Taj Mahal with all my sensitivity 51 years back. But now, I am weighing it in comparison to the relative comfort of my life. True, seeing it made me happy. But the sight never bowled me out.
Mind is a funny thing. It is the beholder’s mind that judges what is beheld. The reaction is always subjective.
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