Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lagaan ver 2.0

The next time you visit Shah Jahan's monumental tribute to Mumtaz Mahal, look around at the angrez tourists before you start looking at the intricate details that took 22 years to complete.

Listen to the guide - Wahabuddin, who's been doing this for 30 years, if you can find him near the ticket counter, that is - and you'll hear a suppressed tone of anguish. The Taj Mahal, supposedly one of the wonders of the modern world, is probably the sole reason why Agra even exists today. And yet, it was almost auctioned off by the British during the regime of William Bentinck. No guide will tell you this - you have to read the inscription outside, installed by the Archaeological Survey of India. But what they will tell you is that "many British person come and loot the Taj". Now this is only partly true - so did our very own Jats and Marathas (again, courtesy the ASI). Apparently, what we see today is just a pale, white shadow of a resplendent monument whose riches were taken away.

That the Koh-i-noor diamond is in the crown of the English monarchy is a well-documented fact. But apparently, there are many more riches that were taken 'back home'. The Indian in us will be wrathful for a while but will forget about it until the next time we encounter history.

So, here's a thought: while we do charge foreign tourists and unfair and exorbitant amount to enter the Taj (of course they do get cloth covers for their shoes and a bottle of water, as value for money) are we missing an opportunity here, as someone (henceforth to be known by the name 'Hey!') pointed out?

Consider, for a moment, that instead of this discriminatory pricing - which, incidentally, prevails at most tourist attractions across the country for no documented, logical reason - suppose we charged British tourists nothing. Not one single penny. Instead, suppose we requested them to contribute to a 'Return our Riches' fund and sign an online petition that would pressurise the British Government to finally return all that they looted.

One option is to prevent them from even visiting such monuments until they return what belongs to us first. But that's not such a good thing from a diplomacy point of view, is it?

Will guilt work where half-hearted governments have failed? Kya bolta?

1 comment:

Two With Nature said...

Well, lets see. It's a fair point, but just that is not enough. Will the guilt work? Maybe, maybe not. Best way to know is to put thought into action. Just outside of the East & West gate of the Taj - let's have a donation box - and tell the brits - donate - it's your duty to - to restore Taj to it's original splendour. Or have a sign the petition campaign (do these things work?). To start with - get the Kohinoor out of the Tower of London (why is it still there?) and let's have a showcase at Taj.