Emperor Shah Jahan would have wept at what his labour of love has come to be. Buried inside the national news section of yesterday’s newspapers, we spotted a bit of news that added to a disturbing trend. A visiting parliamentary panel to the Taj Mahal discovered black spots on four minarets of the 17th century monument.
As if findings from a recent Indo-US study that the Taj was slowly turning yellow weren’t enough, this second discovery is cause for huge concern. Finally, having woken up (high time, isn’t it?) to this most shocking development, the Archaeological Survey of India will have to act fast. The panel has advised them to reach out to overseas experts to help salvage the Taj.
We must rewind to a decade ago, when we visited the Taj Mahal. The excitement was justifiably palpable. However, we should have read the signs as we drew near. A glimpse of the toxic Yamuna invited disbelief. If that wasn’t enough, the imagery of garbage piles less than a kilometer away from the main entry points diluted the thrill. Did the emperor foresee such scant respect for this marvellous architectural wonder, we wonder? Rudely shaken out of our thought process by incessant honking from black-smoke spewing vehicles, we alighted from our ‘eco-friendly’ four-wheeler towards the site. Near the entry fee point, we spotted a (leaking) water tap that doubled up as a public, free water point to wash clothes and take baths. After this shocking lead-up, we tried hard to marvel at the vision and splendor of this marble masterpiece. Civic sense within the space was appalling. Despite being surrounded by of one of the world’s most stunning landmarks, somehow, at the back of our minds, the earlier images flashed rapidly, like frames from a pinhole camera.
Back to the present. Why did it take so long for the ASI to seek outside help? Why wait for the Taj to turn from yellow to black? Mired in bureaucratic hurdles and the passing-the-buck syndrome, we never seem to learn from the past. Yesterday’s report went on to spell instructions given by the panel to the ASI, the district administration and the UP pollution control board to get cracking. One is curious to know how many other studies and surveys conducted by previous panels have been acted upon. Chances are these are gathering dust in some office where the changing colours of India’s most famous monument cease to create any panic attack. One can almost hear the oft-heard, ‘Hamara kya jaata hai?’ echo as we imagine this scenario. In Mumbai, we’ve seen enough structures on a similar road to ruin. It would require a serious, concerted effort by the powers that be to set matters right.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day