31 January 2010

Sunset Slippers

If you’ve seen a picture or a postcard of the Taj Mahal, then you’ve seen the Taj Mahal. You’ve even seen it in its prime.

If you were to see it with your own eyes, it would be much like the postcards that I sent out from India, except the postcards don’t have masses of people in them. Thousands of people walk around barefoot or cover their shoes with gauzy bags to protect this notorious space from their tread. Some of them kneel to pray, and others kneel to get the right camera angles. The immaculate tiled walkways are swarmed with tourists and tour guides, lovers and families, the old and the young. Even with chatter and camera flashes in the background, the scene seems to go silent at sunset just when the planet aligns with the sun to cast a orange glow on the grandiose structure. The orange becomes purple as the sun softens into horizon. And it is brilliant.

So it’s possible to see the Taj in its prime via postcard, but that piece of paper could never allow you to feel it. Standing on that brick is humbling; it makes you fell small, and young. Gazing at those colors and that design is perplexing. And wearing those slippers is itchy, but certainly completes the dazzling experience.

The experience is one inspired by Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of emperor Shah Jahan. As the love story goes, the emperor told the empress on her deathbed that he would build a structure symbolic of their love. One year later, the devoted widower began designing the marble tomb with patterned gemstones.

Maybe it’s the massive headcount on the premises, or perhaps it’s the charming origin that creates the Taj’s majesty. There’s a power about that place that no camera could capture. But it makes sense that we’d all like to take a little sliver of it home... I brought the booties.