Isn’t everyday that raw passion for a human beckons you to the road! Well that’s what happened that day. On another sunny summer morning, me and the man I call life were headed to another day apart, towards our respective workplaces. The unmistakable undercurrents between the driver and the passenger needed no words, as our vehicle gobbled up the kilometers even as we strained against our reluctance! With a project that almost always spanned deadlines, a pile of work waited at my computer. Throw in the tasteless coffee, and I was up against another day of drudgery. The picture wasn’t too bright at his end either.
Just then, it was this bright blue road-sign, high up, straddling the Greater Noida Expressway, that literally yanked my attention. His eyes followed mine, and a glance exchanged. That moment carried the day’s plan. Well yes, we were off to Agra! And oh yes, we were ‘bunking’ office.
We reached Agra in well under 4 hours, making good time. Just as well, for the sun was at a comfortable level, even by the standards of a hot north Indian summer month of May. The torturous heat had been a tad delayed last year. On its slide down, the sun seemed to be inviting us into Agra – the city of love!
But as we cruised into the streets of Agra, what struck me almost immediately was the state of wretchedness that marked the place. Buildings in utter ramshackle, roads that were more of potholes than tar, alleys that no one had bothered to bring up to the times, the so-called roads which were narrower than backdoor lanes, and walls that were all but barely holding up, almost ready to tumble down. The world-famed Agra of the Taj Mahal seemed to have lagged behind by a century!
I remember thinking to myself – “It seems I am in a time warp.”
Across a miserable-looking Yamuna that seemed to have given up on its hopes long ago, my gaze stopped on a glistening speck of white in the distance. The Taj Mahal! We skirted the city streets, looking out onto a rail bridge – the old iron ones that withstood the ravages of time – the ones from the times of the Raj.
Crossing the Yamuna, we tried to make our way through the mayhem that marks any city or town of the state of UP. Eventually we succeeded. Around 3:30 in the evening. We braced ourselves for the heat outside.
Parking our car, we found ourselves close to the Meena Bazaar. Was it that famed Meena Bazaar? Well no! Of course no. But a brick-colored double storey complex, occupied with artisans’ outlets. The famed marble workers of Agra. Quite a few of them descendants of the very artisans who made the Taj – the ones who legend says paid for it by getting their hands chopped off, the ones that created that masterpiece. I scourged around for a marble idol of Radha Krishna, the gods in love, an idol like the one my mother has. But it’s tough to find something to match up to a pedestal. I turned back empty-handed.
Stepping out, it was a medley of decorated camels, horses, and motor-driven rickshaws that welcomed us. Competing with each other to ferry us to the Taj complex, they – the owners of course – outdid each other splendidly. We squinted to know with whom it was we needed to haggle, our favorite being the most gaily decorated motor auto rickshaw, for I’d never ridden such a thing before. To our delight, the three seemed to have got a whiff of our bias and the lesser favored two stepped back most honorably. There I was, squealing with glee as I rode a baby blue painted and beautifully decorated rickshaw, all the way to the Taj. One word for it – pretty.
The golden hour was still some time away. As I made my way through the dark interiors of the arched gateway – Darwaza-i-Rauza, the white at the end of the dark arch grew on me. Through the throngs, I made my way, until I burst upon the flawless marvel of architecture. It stood there, dazzling in its resplendence. The effortlessness with which the Taj dwarfed everything and everyone around it was intimidating. I gaped. I knew it well by those numerous photographs I had been subjected to over the years. And yet.
The Taj looked aglow in the setting sun’s light. As we walked around the central fountains towards the tall platform on which stood one of the most majestic constructions, I felt stunted. I rushed to capture the stunning silhouettes I was offered against the golden light, as if the Taj seemed to be extending a friendly photo-op. As we circled around it and struggled to take in the magnificent inlay work in marble, I wondered at the scale of the achievement in those times of no automation in terms of transport.
Moving towards the river-facing side, the sun burnished in the sky, casting a soft glow to the white mass, and lending a golden tinge to the ripples on the Yamuna. In that instant I felt like I became one with the Taj. Looking out, I saw the Yamuna flowing past over centuries, absorbing the inspiration behind its construction, the immense human effort, the artisans chipping away, the toil and the Indian summer heat, and the eventual sorrow the man who commissioned it was subjected to. I flew through time as if I was in a noir film. I bore those many footfalls, and the accompanying cacophony.
As the light waned, I found my way out.