Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Great Indian Journey 5

PIC: By Manuwant Choudhary


DAY 5: MADHURASHA – A Beautiful Hope!

By Manuwant Choudhary

Unless you are an Indian communist, you can skip the breakfast in Delhi for a breakfast at McDonalds on the Delhi-Agra Highway.

By now comfortable with the Sonata I decided to drive from New Delhi to Bihar myself, giving me company was my bodyguard Deben. It’s best to leave Delhi early morning, in fact that’s what we did throughout our journey to miss rush-hour traffic.

There are some hilly terrain on way to Faridabad and when you turn a corner - what a sight - a haze hangs across the valley which has a few tall under-construction buildings.

Inspite of our politicians, India is beautiful.

I say inspite because when India completed its 50 years of Indian independence there were no celebrations in India.

As a reporter in Bombay with the Afternoon Despatch and Courier I had interviewed Mitesh Seth, just 18 and an NRI student from the London School of Economics, who planned a musical extravaganza at the Royal and Albert Hall in London to celebrate 50 years of Indian independence.

I had published his interview but I had my doubts whether a person so young could achieve such a feat. It was November and the play was to take place in March.

By some fate I happened to visit London in April and not knowing anyone else in the city I called up Mitesh and asked him to recommend a budget bed and breakfast place where I could stay.
A friendly voice on the other end, Mitesh said, “If you don’t mind you could stay at the LSE hostel as I’m on vacation. But only on one condition. First you must join me for a Kathak-Bharatnatyam performance in London.” (anything for a place to stay I said)

In fact, I had never been to a Bharatnatyam performance even in India but I joined Mitesh, he gave me the keys to his room. When I opened his room (to my surprise) I saw my newspaper article pasted across the wall.

Mitesh invited me home for a dosa dinner and introduced me to his parents. I asked Mitesh whether his musical took place at all.
He replied, “Yes.”
I said, “I didn’t believe it would.”
And I could see the horror on his face, “When things were not happening I used to tell my parents that there is only one person in the world who believes I can do it. And that was you!”

Madhurasha (A Beautiful Hope) was about a youth travelling across India looking for a beautiful girl and through his journey he discovers the beauty of India, the cultures, the people, the diversity…and hope.

The reason I narrate this is because I felt I was actually on this beautiful journey. I had never planned to visit the Taj Mahal and that too alone. Yet, as I neared Agra I decided to see the Taj.

Agra is a busy, congested and forgotten town. Without the Taj Mahal Agra would be any other dusty north Indian town.

With some difficulty I did reach the Taj only to find that at this World Heritage Site the parking space is scarce. If you do find one it can take you hours to get out since someone else would have parked their cars in front of yours.

There was a long queue and a tourist guide said if I did not want to wait for hours there was another entrance meant for foreigners but Indians too could enter for a higher fee. I paid.

As you enter the gateway, you realize the Taj Mahal is a monument of love. The Mughal ruler Shah Jahan wanted to build a monument in fond memory of his loving wife Noor Jahan, who had passed away. His brief to the architects was the monument must be like `Jannat’ or `heaven’ on `Judgement Day’

Ofcourse, such are the crowds at the Taj Mahal these days that I would choose not going to `heaven’. (But this Shah Jahan had not imagined)

The gardens, the fountains and the minarets ….and the location with the Yamuna flowing takes you to another world. But it also inspires us that the human spirit can achieve beyond the ordinary.

It is said that Shah Jahan wanted to build another Taj Mahal across the Yamuna in black stone, like a yin and a yang. But that was not to be as Aurangzeb imprisoned him at the Agra Fort where he eventually died.

There is a story that Aurangzeb granted Shah Jahan two wishes in prison and Shah Jahan said he wanted chana (gram rich in protein) to eat and that he wanted to teach Aurangzeb’s son (so that he doesn’t become like his own son Aurangzeb).

I sometimes wonder why we since independence have not built a single building that can stand the test of time.

Do we love India or anyone?

We still have the marble.

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