The mighty love to leave their mark behind. As did Ozymandias of Egypt. So did Shah Jahan, the emperor of India. Not one to be left behind, Mayavati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, wanted to make an effort to improve and modernize Shah Jahan’s creation. If the mayor of Calcutta, too, takes the cue and seeks to create a landmark for his city, one should not fault his ambition.
Shah Jahan was lucky. There was no Supreme Court or judicial watchdog then to stop him from realizing his ambition. Even if his successor and son did cut short the project finally, nobody thinks of the Taj Mahal as an incomplete monument. Anyway, the Taj is more than Shah Jahan could have hoped for. But many others are as lucky.
Mayavati, for instance, had to beat a hasty retreat, thanks to the watchful eyes of Indian citizens. And the Taj Mahal survived a modernization effort. Instead of lying hidden in the sand, it shines unperturbed by the ravages of time, the polluted waters of the Yamuna, the hawk-eyes of plunderers over the centuries, and the refinery of Mathura.
Thus, even four centuries after its construction, there were no two opinions in the Federation of Indian chambers of commerce and industry when it decided to use the Taj Mahal as the backdrop during last year’s India-Asean Business Summit. And this needs to be taken note of in the Indian context, where even near-unanimous decisions must have multiple dissenting voices, more so when government officials are actively involved in various stages of the decision-making process.
But that is beside the point. What is important is that the majestic presence of the Taj Mahal in the backdrop was simply too awesome to be objected to. Whether the credit should go to Shah Jahan or to the marketing efforts of the babus in the tourism ministry may be hotly debated on a cable television channel.
But the Charminar in Hyderabad has not been through such good times. I was naïve enough to think that the Charminar is the symbol of the southern city. This illusion was rudely shaken when I chanced upon the backdrop of the India-Asean business summit at the Kakatiya Sheraton in Hyderabad. The curious structure there did not resemble any of the monuments that I could think of in or out of Hyderabad. In fact, the riddle was so overpowering that I missed all the finer points made by the president of the chamber and also the wits of the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu.
So dazed was I that I kept asking everyone after the inauguration what the structure represented. Nobody volunteered to throw some light on my ignorance.
Finally it was the chamber’s infrastructure expert who took pity: “That is the hi-tech city of Hyderabad”, he said. I could not resist asking, “But is it so famous that we had to place it on the backdrop'” The resident expert, too, seemed somewhat confused, “Well, not yet perhaps. But the state government officials felt that it was,” he put an end to our conversation.
Calcutta’s mayor, who has been contemplating an addition to the monuments of the city in the form of a metal-and-concrete gateway, may take note of the lines from Shelley: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” In this age, some official sponsors could take care of much of the trouble. However, it is up to the new-age monument-builders to decide if they are prepared to reconcile the line that follows: “Nothing beside remains.”