Sometime back I had written a ‘travelogue’ penning my experiences during my recent visit to Agra. I am just updating…
I have a bad habit and my wife hates me for this. I don’t mind talking to strangers. If conversation goes on fine, then it is good and if it does not then I don’t give a damn and move on shrugging off my shoulders. I don’t have anything to lose. I often only get some new insight in to the human psychology, at least the behavioural aspect thereof. My recent visit to Agra was interesting from this perspective.
I went to Agra by an overnight train from Chandigarh. Starting at 7 p.m. I reached Agra by 2.45 a.m. In the train I met with some interesting persons who were on nearby berths. There was one Mr. Yadav, a gentleman from some top defence equipment manufacturing company of USA. Very talkative guy; he neither slept, nor let me sleep all along. We remained engrossed in very interesting discussion about new technological advances in the field of international defence production. It enriched my knowledge tremendously. There was another gentleman from NFL, Panipat, a very well organised individual indeed, who first got his berth rightly vacated from some occupant, then locked up each of his luggage with iron chains, securing them with compartmental fixtures clarifying that even higher class air-conditioned bogies have thieves sitting there in, then he took out a ‘multi-pin socket’ and plugged in to the lone single pin electrical socket installed in the compartment and put his phone on the charge. Then he asked each of us to systematically rearrange our luggage. After getting everything neatened up and nicely arranged, he settled into his berth snoring away to glory. Then there was a young man named Neeraj, who was recently selected as a Probationary Officer in a bank, was not liking the job and planning to join insurance sector, where also he stood selected. His eyes twinkled talking about his future plans and getting settled with his future wife and still more distant children to come.
I had been in love with Agra, a city which always reminded me of its ancient grandeur and romanticism which reached its zenith during the reigns of Akbar and Shahjahan, greatest of Mughal emperors. The city, as also the world, is thankful to Shahjahan who bestowed upon it the Taj Mahal, ultimate epitome of love. I always yearned to be here, to go and sit under the shaded trees planted with in the premises of this monument of love and to keep gazing at the Crown jewel, the Taj.
I was not to know that this time, this city of love was to crumble down; crumble down for me, a hitherto incurable romanticist who could decipher love even in the ruins of historic monuments, someone who could sit there under shade and let the past of that place play slowly down in flashes. Decades ago, Amrita Pritam, the doyen of Punjabi poetry, had once asked me about my perception of Taj Mahal; whether I saw it as an epitome of love, pure love or as a ghastly monument exhibiting abhorring and horrendous display of royal wealth which negated and destroyed the very foundation of love; love which every human heart cherishes and yearns for irrespective of one’s financial status. She had then talked about the contradiction between innumerable verses written in honour of Taj as the ultimate symbol of love and one written by Sahir Ludhianvi, the celebrated socialist Urdu poet who had penned a painfully realistic verse,
"Mere Mehboob Kahiin Aur Milaa Kar Mujh Se”.
It is a beautiful verse;
“ये चमनज़ार ये जमुना का किनारा ये महल
ये मुनक़्क़श दर-ओ-दीवार, ये महराब ये ताक़
इक शहंशाह ने दौलत का सहारा ले कर
हम ग़रीबों की मुहब्बत का उड़ाया है मज़ाक़
मेरी महबूब कहीं और मिला कर मुझ से!”
I was really at a loss of words as to how should I explain my emotive feelings to Amrita Pritam. My strong socialistic convictions notwithstanding, I was in love with Taj and it's saga of love. To look at the Taj from any other angle was blasphemy for me.
But during this visit to Agra, I realise that Sahir Ludhianvi's interpretation of the legacy of Taj was indeed meaningful. This time I happened to meet Azhar, a young ‘research scholar of medieval history’ and a city native. Interaction with him threw up a new Agra, a perspective which though well known, was yet hidden under the layers of dust, for no one wanted to talk about that reality. Agra was the city where legendary Anarkali was incarcerated alive within stone walls, where the harems of successive Great Mughals saw innumerable young beauties being molested by them every night, where hundreds of youth were romped by elephants in full public gaze, their only fault being that they dared either to raise a voice against the powerful Mughal tyrants or they had dared to fall in love with hapless and poor girls who were unfortunate to ‘prostitute’ themselves within the precincts of impregnable harem walls.
Ramparts of Agra fort
Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri; Diwan e aam;Eexecution by Elephant, The Stone with witch victims are said to be have been tied before elephant romping
Stairs to nowhere…
He informed me about the buried rooms on the riverside of the Taj where workers lived in misery and whose hands were allegedly chopped off at the orders of Shahjahan so that ‘they could not build another Taj, anywhere else.
Basement rooms on the riverside of the Taj where workers are said to have lived in misery
He took me to the ruins of several princely buildings and told me horrific stories about them. He also told me about the exploitation of youth by visiting Gora Sahibs. Stories of these so-called historic places where sex tourism is in vogue, is the same, he rightly told me. And this time Agra really stank.
Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Emperor of India had written many beautiful verses. They all had their genesis in pain, in agony; remembrances and yearning for his lost love, his lost home, lost country. Then I just can’t help remembering his verse, 'Baat Karni Mujhe Mushkil Kabhi Aisi To Na Thi'. I am at a loss for words. My world woven around history and its romanticism has come shattering down and I don't know how to proceed ahead.
I hate Agra…