Sunday, January 3, 2010

Building a new Taj Mahal!

The new year has arrived. It is time for all of us to make the most of the opportunities offered and make our presence felt in whatever field we may be. However, unfortunately a huge section of Muslims tend to look back and harp on the 'greatness' of their tradition, culture. They choose to ignore the present and the future and dwell at length on past accomplishments and seek solace from it.

While history has to be understood and remembered, and imbibed for laying the foundations for a better future, we should not build up an edifice drawn largely from whatever is considered as the 'golden age'. While this is not true for all Muslims, there is no denying that there is still a fairly large section that tends to indulge in this kind of romanticism. This takes them on a hot air balloon ride, fill with gas of nostalgia and emotion that takes them to a deep valley, where they are stranded. This is not a new phenomenon and I would like to share two examples.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan worked on a revised edition of the Ain-e-Akbari and gave it to Mirza Ghalib to write an introduction. Mirza Ghalib was much elder to Sir Syed Khan, who must have expected some kind, congratulatory message from the legendary poet. Instead, Ghalib asked him to focus on the future and the new era that had dawned and to come out from his fixation on the Mughal rule.

The same way we need to focus on the future and keep pace with the fast-changing world. Ghalib's words sound prophetic even now. Much of the blame lies with the community and religious leaders who gain the most for taking Muslims through this emotional trip of 'past greatness'. It helps add extra vigour to their campaign of 'fighting injustice against Muslims'. Talk about a community's 'glorious past and achievements' and then compare it with their current situation. This gives enough fodder to nail the system and people who run it.

Rambles and Recollections of an India official, a two-volume book written by W H Sleeman, an English officer gives an excellent insight of British India. In the second volume he writes about a conversation he had with some boatmen.

"I crossed over the river Jumna one morning to look at the tomb of Etmad od Doulah, the most remarkable mausoleum in the neighbourhood, after those of Akbar and the Taj. On my way back, I asked one of the boatmen, who was rowing me, who had built what appeared to me a new dome within the fort. "One of the emperors, of course," said he. "What makes you think so?" "Because such things are made only by emperors," replied the man quietly, without relaxing his pull at the oar.

"True, very true!" said an old Mussulman trooper, with large white whiskers and mustachios, who had dismounted to follow me across the river, with a melancholy shake of the head, "very true; who but Emperors could do such things as these?" Encouraged by the trooper, the boatman continued: "The Jats and the Mahrattas did nothing but pull down and destroy, while they held their accursed dominion here; and the European gentlemen, who now govern seem to have no pleasure in building anything but factories, courts of justice, and jails."

The very next paragraph Sleeman writes of his feelings: "Feeling as an Englishman, as we all must sometimes do, be where we will, I could hardly help wishing that the beautiful panels and pillars of the bathroom had fetched a better price, and that palace, Taj, and all at Agra, had gone to the hammer - so sadly do they exalt the past, at the expense of the present (made in bold here), in the imaginations of the people!"

The conversation with the boatmen forces Sleeman to go to the extent of wishing that had the Taj been demolished people (like the boatmen) would have remained grounded in the present. I had first come across this few years back when I was browsing the book at a bookstore in Mumbai. Sleeman's observations struck me and remained with me all these years.

Our culture, heritage and history (and this certainly includes Taj Mahal) can't be wished away, much less be demolished. What we have to ensure is tackle the blocks coming our way and think of building a new Taj Mahal rather just continue to marvel at the existing one! It's too old!!

1 comment:

  1. i like your concluding thoughtful message. Isn't it surprising inspite of so much advancement in scientific and technological inventions and such avid knowledge no one has yet challenged this architectural marvel.
    Its rightly said, make a new TAJMAHAL and stop relishing the existing one, it's too old.

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