The Affair at the Taj
*B. L. Dhar
hahjahan woke up after he felt cold and wobbly early December morning and turned on his right side to leave the bed, careful not to awake his beloved Mumtaz sleeping on his left side and looking there he felt sad not to find her there. He soon remembered he was in his grave and Mumtaz would be in the adjacent one. With a careful stride he walked out of his grave and examined his robes for any telltale signs of wrinkles. Mumtaz would be furious if he was not dressed properly. He tapped gently at Mumtaz’s grave and waited patiently for her to make an appearance. It seemed like waiting for a thousand years until she made her presence felt. A waft of attar invaded his smelling senses and he felt rejuvenated. She was beautiful as ever and he felt an elevation of his deathly spirit. He made it a point to courtesy to her and saluted with a rhythmic motion she was so familiar with. She responded with a nod and made her salutation with a bow before His Majesty.
They took a walk together in the lawns of the garden and enjoyed the fragrance of the flowers that were in full bloom. Both took-in the sight of the Taj built by him in her memory and felt glorified at the view around. The dome looked so dazzling in the rising sun and the calligraphic text of the Koran was easily visible at this distance. After reciting the text in his own mind and a silent prayer Shahjahan felt hungry and asked Mumtaz if she wanted to join him for breakfast at the royal kitchens of the fort a short distance away. They took the familiar route to the fort and to their dismay found not a soul around in the early morning and no sign of the kitchen anywhere. In fact the smell around was musty and stale and the view disagreed with his royal highness. He shouted a command at his servants but alas none came forward in the manner they used to when he commanded. What is happening, the king thought and finding no reasonable explanation cursed under his breath and felt sorry for his queen who remained hungry and no one in attendance? He contemplated a proper punishment for the guilty for this impropriety.
Shahjahan held her hand majestically and led Mumtaz to his chambers at the fort. He had a splendid view of the Taj from his window and made Mumtaz aware that he had spent a best part of his older life, 8 years to be precise, watching her grave after her death many years earlier at Burhanpur where she had problems with her childbirth and passed away in agony. She had to wait with internment at two other gravesites before she could be placed in the present one with all the dignity she deserved. It was after all at her request that Shahjahan had erected the monument in her memory. He reminded Mumtaz that he had to take the garden site from its original owner Raja Man Singh whose grandson Raja Jai Singh was bestowed with 4 havelis in exchange. He had selected the site just for the reason that it was on the banks of the river and he could feast his eyes upon it from where they stood now. He recollected the occasion when the work on the monument started in 1633 and it took nearly 22 years to complete with artisans, stone carvers and masons all across India, Persia, Baghdad and Turkey and inlay artists from Delhi. Mumtaz had borne him 14 children of whom only 7 survived, 4 sons and 3 daughters. It was a different matter that his son Aurangzeb revolted against him to usurp power from him and imprisoned him at the Agra fort till his death eight years later.
As the sun brightened up the day with temperatures rising to mid twenties, the heat was becoming unbearable for the king to bear having lived in the cold womb of the earth since 1667 and his wife a few years earlier when she died in 1632 at barely age 39. Shahjahan married many more wives in his lifetime but that was just the pastime for him and he only loved Mumtaz. He had shut himself up in his chambers for two months after the death of Mumtaz barely eating and socializing and when he emerged from his hideout his hair had all turned gray. With tears rolling down his eyes he beseeched Mumtaz to return to the grave as the discomfort mounted with the heat. He wished his grave were big enough to hold them both together in a perpetual embrace. He recollected he had spent 32 million rupees to bring up the monument and it still could not keep them together. What an irony of fate that even the royals had to suffer like commoners. Shahjahan escorted Mumtaz to her abode, bade her farewell and then entered his own chambers to take rest. They had both been hungry and no one offered them a meal after having slept for centuries. It would be a long time before they decided to wake up again.
It was barely a few months later that Shahjahan had an urge to meet his beloved and rising from his cold chamber he surfaced outside his grave and tapped at the adjacent gravestone where Mumtaz was in deep slumber. He looked around cautiously to ensure there were no sentries around whom he thought he had dismissed the previous evening. He waited for Mumtaz to make an appearance and shortly she stood before him yawning away the remaining sleep. What takes you so long to appear when requested as against my speed whenever I hear your call? They held hands briefly looking into each other’s eyes and then he led her out in the open where the dawn was in its first lap. It would take the sun some time to shine and he wanted to take the moment to himself before the heat of the day would become disturbing to both. Mumtaz gave a quizzical look at him and asked for a reason to call her so early in the day. You know, he said, I have been disturbed by the thought of our sons quarreling so fiercely and making a savage contest for the throne that would eventually belong to them and why not take it by rotation. That way no one would be hurt. Shahjahan told her he wanted to go and examine his Peacock Throne at Dilli, now that it had been shifted from Agra Fort and wanted to take Mumtaz along. Do I have any choice in this matter, if you so please my lord, she said.
He walked with his back thrown up straight in a majestic stride and recollected that he was born as Prince Khurram, son of Jehangir and Jagat Gosini, a proud Rajput mother and the grandson of Akbar the great. He had inherited nuances of his grandfather and had a strong love for the beauty of art, nature and a passion for architecture. The woman alongside whom he had instantly fallen in love with was Arjumand Bano Begum. He reminded her about his building the Shalimar Garden in Kashmir that he dedicated to his love. Right now I have a mind to revisit the Peacock throne and I want to sit on it for a while, my loving Mumtaz by my side. We have a long way to go, but Dilli is not really that far considering that we can now fly in our own frames. What a bliss being in this state of lightness and the ability to go unnoticed wherever we want. Nobody seems to bother us any more. But I do really feel hungry and have a mind to eat a hearty meal at Dilli from our own kitchens. Wonder why the one at Agra is closed and smelling so awful? I am sure the “khansama” will be pleased to serve us well on this visit. I do intend to have the Mughlai dishes prepared that I lately miss so much.
It was the usual crowd of worshippers at the Jama Masjid at Dilli and the people eagerly bowed in unison, all actions rehearsed and well known to the royal couple. They supplicated in prayer with all
others and no one did really bother them or ask them where they had been all this time. After the “namaz” they went out the main gate and headed towards the Red Fort where they intended to have their first meal of the day. The traffic on the roads had in the meantime picked up in volume and the royals failed to recognize the steel contraptions running in both directions. There was loud noise everywhere and their ears ached with the cacophony of sounds unfamiliar to them. Shahjahan held the hand of Mumtaz and both were waiting to cross the road towards the fort. Every time they stepped forward some vehicle or the other would suddenly appear and frustrate their movement. At one point when they thought the traffic had eased they decided to run across. What a pity these creatures have become unruly and have no manners? Can they not let the royal couple be shown some courtesy and allowed to go where they wanted? Where are all the bodyguards and why is no one concerned about our safety any more? Oh yes now I see what this is all about. We are dead and they cannot see us. Not their fault I say. I even miss my chariot and the servants who would run alongside.
It was only after a long wait that Shahjahan felt safe enough to cross the road, only to be run over by a suddenly appearing Blue Line Bus on route 429. The same fate awaited his beloved Mumtaz and both lay bleeding profusely with no one paying any attention to them. It took some time for the emperor to realize that he felt no pain even after all the blood had run out of his veins and the flesh torn all over and hanging in tatters. He made one last effort to get up and surprisingly did manage so without further discomfort. He offered a hand to Mumtaz and helped her up when she caught hold of his outstretched hand. Upon getting up they walked through rest of the traffic and reached the other end from where they headed straight towards the Red Fort, their final destination.
There were some strangely uniformed creatures at the entrance gate to the fort and they carried some kind of weapons, the sight of which terrified the emperor. It took courage for him to walk past these men and escort his beloved Mumtaz towards the royal court. He recollected the glory of his days and to his dismay the pomp and show was gone with hardly any evidence of occupancy of the premises other than an odd assortment of people coming in and going out with no apparent pleasure on their faces. The “Diwane-Khas” was empty and bereft of all the furniture and the peacock throne that he had come to seek was missing. He looked at Mumtaz who let out a scream of agony escape her lips and both fell on the bare ground and rolled in disbelief at not finding their favorite seat, which they had come to seek all across the plains from Agra. They looked around and visited the “Diwane-Aam” where the same feeling of desolation hit them when they found the place deserted and vandalized. They did not understand the source of the graffiti on the surrounding walls and the reason for the missing water fountains in the lawns of the court. All hunger felt by the royals earlier disappeared and instead knots seemed to form in their guts at the sight of the state of affairs around them. With a huge effort they held their hands and made out their way back towards their resting place at the Taj Mahal at Agra. The graves were more poised and restful than the living quarters where some people at least came to pay them some respect.
B. L. Dhar was born and educated at Srinagar. Did Master's degree in Mathematics. Took up appointment with the Civil Aviation Sector of the G.O.I. as a gazzetted officer and later joined the PSU, Airports Authority of India (AAI) from where he retired as General Manager in 2000.
At present residing at Delhi with frequent visits to the US and Europe where his kith and kin reside. Has interest in writing.
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