When I first learned about the Seven Wonders of the World in school, I went, “Hein, Ma’am are you sure?” After all, except for the Pyramids of Giza, none of the items on the hottest-places-to-see-in-the-world itinerary even existed anymore. Clearly, the Travel & Lifestyle folks of yore had been quite sluggish in updating their Best-Of lists. Anyway, I discovered quite recently that a new Top-7 list has been produced, and this one does have places that one can actually go to and click a suitable Facebook profile picture at.
I was also joyously happy to see my favourite politician Mayawatiji’s property making the cut. No small feat for a person who started her journey to greatness as a humble school teacher. By the way, Happy Teachers Day, Mayawatiji! Except for the Yadavs, everyone loves you!
Which brings me to the property itself. Mahamaya Taj Mahal, or simply Taj Mahal as it is known among the plebs, is a glorious monument built by Shah Jahan centuries ago (use Google if you really want to know exactly when – must I spoon-feed you?) when his beloved wife died bearing him his fourteenth child at the ripe old age of 29. It was a fitting tribute to erect such a huge building in her honour considering it was most likely the man’s perpetual erection that did her in.
Anyway, back to the Taj. I am certain that it wasn’t quite smooth-sailing to construct a building of that complexity. I suspect some of the conversations during its design and construction might have gone like this –
A’la Azad Abul Muzaffar Shahab ud-Din Mohammad Khurram, or simply Shah Jahan for short : (with thundering anger and blazing eyes) What the hell is wrong with you, you bloody nincompoop? Didn’t I say that I wanted taller minarets? What is wrong with you architects these days? Don’t you ever listen?
Taufeeq Contractor, Chief Architect : (trembling with fear) But, Sir, that was what I was trying to explain to you the other day. Any taller than this and we will not be able to get the blueprints approved by the Housing Board!
Shah Jahan : Who cares what the Housing Board says! I will just stuff their mouths with 1-Rupiya coins! Have those minions even seen what a 1-Rupiya coin looks like in their entire life?
Taufeeq Contractor : (sheepishly) I am sorry, Sir, but…
Shah Jahan : But what?
Taufeeq Contractor : They have declined to accept any bribes in the shape of Paisas or Rupiyas.
Shah Jahan : (spitting angrily) What?
Taufeeq Contractor : They say that they will only accept Dollars.
Shah Jahan : Dollar? What in Allah’s name is that?
Taufeeq Contractor : It’s what our cousins on the other side of the world, the NRIs, are using these days.
Shah Jahan : (ferociously) These blasted Native Red Indians! I hope someone from Europe goes to the New World and fixes those bloody rats once and for all!
Taufeeq Contractor : (almost whispers) : And there is one more thing, Sir.
Shah Jahan : What’s that?
Taufeeq Contractor : They can’t approve 8 minarets. They say that so many minarets are an earthquake hazard.
Shah Jahan : (angrily shakes fist) La haul vila kuvat! I hope they rot in hell!
Taufeeq Contractor : I am negotiating with them for six. Hopefully they will agree, otherwise we may have to settle for four. Or two. But it will cost extra.
Shah Jahan : And to think we already had to grease quite a few palms to get the riverside plot assigned to us.
So, as you can see, even in 16-hundred whatever AD, obtaining the right site, and getting a floor plan passed by the Municipal Corporation was like pulling teeth. And this man was the bloody King, for Christ’s sakes! Then, a few days later…
Shah Jahan : (annoyed as usual) Just make sure all the paperwork is pakka. I don’t want anyone in the future trying to take over this whole Taj Corridor and passing it off as their property!
Hukum Nawaz, Wazeer-e-Daftar (Chief Secretary) : As you command, Jahan-Panaah.
Shah Jahan : Any news on the Underground Parking?
Hukum Nawaz : Sorry Sir, but that plan has been rejected.
Shah Jahan : (with nostrils starting to flare dangerously) What the hell! Why?
Hukum Nawaz : We are too close to the river. It will cause seepage problems.
Shah Jahan : Damn it! Now where are we going to park all the horse- and bullock-carts? We needed at least two floors of underground parking!
Hukum Nawaz : Sir, we will have to use the area in front.
Shah Jahan : And have those four-legged monsters eat all my imported grass and dunk their heads into my expensive fountains? Use your brains, Hukum Nawaz!
Hukum Nawaz : Sorry Sir!
Shah Jahan : What sorry-shorry! You just have to come up with an alternative plan for the traffic.
Meanwhile, the Emperor has to still manage his personal life, and the fourteen sons his loving departed wife left him with. The most obnoxious one is the eldest.
Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, or simply Aurangzeb : Papa, come play Emperor-Slave with me! I want to pump you with arrows.
Shah Jahan : (irritated) Go away, boy, can’t you see that your father is busy?
Aurangzeb : (angrily) But, Pops, you always keep saying that! Why do you never listen to me? Come! These arrows won’t hurt much. Look, they are Made-in-China.
Shah Jahan : (equally angrily) I said go away. Don’t you make me angry, boy!
Aurangzeb : (even more angrily) You wait till I grow up, Papa. When I am the King, I will lock you up in prison and throw away the key!
Shah Jahan : (dismissively) Yeah, yeah, yeah, we will see about that, you Dumbass!
Shah Jahan yells to the maid who comes scurrying.
Shah Jahan : (authoritatively) Kaneez, take this juvenile delinquent away. And make sure he doesn’t manage to sneak into my chambers again, ok?
The maid bows. Then, Shah Jahan calls her close to him to pass on covert instructions.
Shah Jahan : (whispering) He likes to butcher people. Just provide him a few slaves so he can play with. Who are we to curtail his natural instincts? At some point in the future, people like him will be very famous. There may even be books and plays about serial killers!
The boy is taken away screaming and yelling egregious threats at his father. Meanwhile, the Emperor has another visitor who has been stopped at the door.
Hukum Nawaz : Sir, it’s Anarkali. She says she must see you. It’s urgent.
The concubine. Alas, there is no hope of getting any serious work done today. The Emperor caves in.
Shah Jahan : (mildly irritated) What is it, Anarkali? Just speak quickly, I don’t have any patience with your slow, husky, whispered tone today.
Anarkali : (in a huff at being scolded in front of everyone) Ok, I will make it quick. You promised me a new Sheesh Mahal where I could do my dance performances, and where the walls and ceilings would mirror a million reflections of my swirling Anarkali suit and dupatta. What the hell happened to that plan?
Shah Jahan : We will get to that by and by.
Anarkali : (still annoyed) Delaying tactics! Why are you focused on that dead woman’s mausoleum when you should be focused on me!
These damned women, the Emperor says to himself.
Anarkali : (starting to cry) Do you really not care that at some point someone will want to make a biopic on my life? What good it will be if there is no item song featuring me in my own grand Sheesh Mahal?
Aaaaaand she begins to cry.
Anarkali : (for extra effect) Have you no heart?
Shah Jahan : (sighing loudly) Ok, ok, my dear, let me see what we can do.
Anarkali : (immediately back in control of her tear ducts) Yes, and you had better do it quickly.
Suddenly his father’s original idea of entombing the whining woman doesn’t seem like that bad an idea to the Emperor.
Anarkali leaves happily. The Chief Secretary and the Emperor are back to discussing the monument.
Shah Jahan : Ok, what’s the plan about Labour? Do we have 20,000 labourers ready for the show?
Hukum Nawaz : (excitedly) Yes, Sir, we are working on that. We are getting some from Bihar and Jharkhand. Others are being summoned back from the Middle East.
Shah Jahan : What about their contracts? Remember it is imperative that they don’t stay on in the construction business after building my property. We can’t have them copying our style elsewhere! And we certainly don’t want them building Casinos in the New World that look like our monument!
Hukum Nawaz : Exactly, Sir. That is why we are making them sign a Confidentiality Agreement.
Shah Jahan : Sign?
Hukum Nawaz : Yes, Sir.
Shah Jahan : (blowing his top yet again) Naa muraad! Do you think they can read or write? Sign, he says! You bloody IAS-type idiots! Do you not know anything?
Hukum Nawaz : (extremely mortified) Sorry, Sir! We will come up with an alternate plan.
Shah Jahan : What alternate plan! Can’t you just cut off their arms after the job is done? Isn’t that simple?
Hukum Nawaz : Oh, absolutely, Sir. That can be managed.
Shah Jahan : Ok, good. What about all the raw material? I am warning you again – I want only the best quality marble!
Hukum Nawaz : Yes, Sir. Absolutely, Sir! We are sourcing it from Rajasthan via NOIDA. The only hitch is hauling it all the way to Agra.
Shah Jahan : So what are we going to do about that?
Hukum Nawaz : Sir, can I ask you to fast track an Expressway from there? From NOIDA to Agra? That way, our bullock carts can just zip through at double-digit speeds.
Shah Jahan : So fast! But is it safe? To drive so fast on the Expressway? What is this – some kind of Formula 1?
Hukum Nawaz : Oh, totally safe, Sir. In fact some of our spies in Europe claim that the highways there are so smooth that horses and oxen practically slide on them. And there is no speed limit on those roads either!
Shah Jahan : No way!
Hukum Nawaz : Yes way, Sir.
Shah Jahan : So how can we get this Expressway done quickly?
Hukum Nawaz : We should really go ahead and give the approvals for it. In fact, (coughs) some of the interested builders are willing to (cough), you know, write ‘ghazals’ for Jahanpanaah.
Shah Jahan : I see. How many ‘ghazals’ are they willing to give…errm, write?
Hukum Nawaz : Sir, the going rate is 200 ‘ghazals’. You know, pure gold ‘ghazals’.
Shah Jahan : What shit! Tell them nothing less than 500 ‘ghazals’ will do! 200 ‘ghazals’ my fat ass!
Hukum Nawaz : I shall let them know, Sir.
Shah Jahan : And warn them that if they don’t write me the right number of ‘ghazals’, I will sit on their file forever.
Hukum Nawaz : Absolutely, Sir. Yes, Sir.
Well, Taj Mahal supposedly took 20 years to build. It used the best marble from Rajasthan and the best stones from wherever else (just Google it, for Heaven’s sake). Quite a handful of a project for the great Shah Jahan who later died in captivity. (That bloody Aurangzeb locked him up, you see!)
But, in the end, we all got our Taj Mahal, the only Indian thing that features in Hollywood disaster films when they have to show worldwide destruction of the planet.
Meanwhile, one assumes that the right amount of ‘ghazals’ never passed hands between the builders and the government for centuries. The Yamuna Expressway wasn’t inaugurated until 2012. It cuts down journey time between Delhi to Agra from over 6 hours to under 2, possibly the smoothest road in the country where zipping at 160 kmph is a-ok. But will it ever be featured in any Wonder Of The World list? Unlikely.
I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 1st – 7th September 2013. The theme is SEVEN. This post features a person and a monument, both are among the Seven Wonders of the World as far as I am concerned.