I don’t remember my father’s face or his voice but he always guided me through the tough times
Going to India was something I dreamed of since I was a little child. Growing up, visiting the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was on my bucket list.
What does the Taj Mahal stand for? It wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t hold the idea of love. Love is the most powerful universal message that resonates with human hearts beyond limitations of time and space. For me it also has a deeply personal symbolism.
I finally did make trip to India and of course visited the Taj Mahal. When I shared photos on my Facebook page. I got some interesting responses:
“I am amazed that highly educated and forward-thinking person like you believes in symbolism. I hope you do understand what symbolism means.”
“Yes, one of the seven wonders of the world. Its beauty is incomparable when seen in moonlight. Tagore described it as a teardrop on the cheek of time – ‘boond jo ban gaya moti’ (a drop that became a pearl)”.
“Built at tremendous human cost of blood, sweat and tears especially of the poor laborers! The same story with the Egyptian pyramids!”
“How can love triumph on the blood of poor souls? It is not love. It is a monument to Egotistical Tyranny!”
Despite all this, for me, the Taj Mahal represents love. Here’s why. Sitting across from the Taj Mahal, soaking in the splendid view of this majestic work of art, the thought that came to my mind was: “My dad was here!”
I tried to imagine what he might have thought and felt since he was an architect himself.
Growing up, I only had his photo, taken as he sat in front of the Taj Mahal. In those days before color photography, someone had hand-painted it, giving the illusion of some fictitious otherworldly place.
The eldest of five siblings, I was six years old, playing with the others one evening in a small house made of sofa cushions when the phone rang.
“Your husband has been in an accident!” someone informed my mother.
She left the other children at home – the youngest just four months old – with the housekeeper and took me with her in a rickshaw to the Civil Hospital in Sukkur, Sindh.
I remember seeing my father in the general ward hooked up to lots of tubes. He died a few weeks later after several failed surgeries.
I don’t remember his face or his voice.
One of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal has intrigued visitors for hundreds of years. It is not a mosque or a resort. The emperor Shah Jehan built it as a monument to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. They were married for 20 years, until she died giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jehan is buried next to his wife.
So I see it as a resting place over the graves of two people who loved each other. Plus, a monument honoring a wife is unprecedented in Islamic history.
The Taj Mahal attracts thousands of local and international visitors a year, which drives the economy of the small city of Agra. The monument provides a livelihood to many tour guides, security service providers, hoteliers and gardeners. Descendants of the craftsmen who built Taj still live in Agra and work using the same techniques. They make exquisite marble tables, statues, small replicas of Taj Mahal sold in government run shops. They take great pride in their heritage.
Their ancestors worked in other palaces too, employing the same stone carving techniques, including the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the last of great palaces in India located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
This man-made structure with pros and cons in its history, its past and its present, is just like anything else. When we see it, we actually see a reflection of what’s important to us.
Even when I was supposedly grown up and in medical college, I missed my father. Lessons from his short life lit my way. He supported me even in his absence. I found my father and his journey intriguing. He was a man who came from far away and became greatly successful and then left quickly.
Whenever I was anxious or afraid to face a test or task, I would remind myself of him, that he was within me. If he could come to Pakistan as an orphaned eleven-year-old orphan from India and become a successful architect, I too could do great things in my own life.
My paternal grandfather Mirza Inayat Baig had nine children. My father Mirza Shujat Baig was the youngest. He was only six years old when both his parents passed away. In 1947 the country split in two. Two brothers and two sisters chose to move to Pakistan. The rest of the family stayed back in India.
We lost all contact with my father’s side of the family after he died. They lived too far away and we were too young. We moved to the U.S in 1993.
My brother Ali Mirza, a marine and the world traveler found our relatives when he visited India for a vacation. Amazingly, when I met them, they had my baby pictures. One of our cousins is an architect like my father – unlike any of my father’s own children. Both of my sisters are in medicine and brothers in business.
Being born in Pakistan, getting a visa for India turned out to be a very difficult matter for all of us. The two countries unfortunately don’t get along so well. They have nukes aimed at each other!
I had to drive about six hours all the way from Oklahoma to Houston twice to apply. We went through the required hoops, filled out extensive paperwork and waited patiently. The visas finally came through for all five siblings – but at different times so we couldn’t go together. But we still went and had a wonderful time.
During our visits, our Indian relatives were wonderful; some came from out of town to meet us. Others gave up their beds. They gave us gifts and cooked delicious meals for us.
The best gift I got was a small marble replica of the Taj Mahal that now sits elegantly in the china cabinet in our home.
The monument may have different meanings for people depending on their background, perceptions, reading of history, knowledge, or personal situation. For me personally, it is about family. Above all it is about love.
- Year of Construction: 1631
- Completed In: 1653 (22 years)
- Built by: Shah Jahan
- Dedicated to: Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Bano Begum)
- Location: Agra (Uttar Pradesh), India
- Building type: Islamic tomb
- Architectural style: Mughal — combination of Persian, Islamic and Indian Number of workers: 20,000
- Highlights: One of the Seven Wonders of the World; a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Timings: Sunrise to sunset (Friday closed)
- Entry fee (2015): Rs 750 – Foreign Tourists; Rs 510 – SAARC citizens and BIMSTEC countries; Rs 20 – domestic Indian tourists; no entry fee for children below 15 years of age, domestic or foreigner.
* Before his accession to the throne, Shah Jahan was known as Prince Khurram.
* More than 1,000 elephants were used to transport the construction materials
* As many as 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stones were for the exquisite inlay work.
* Depending on the time of day or night – and whether or not there is a moon – Taj Mahal appears to be of different color every time. Some even believe that this changing pattern of colors depict different moods of a woman.
* Passages from Quran have been used as decorative elements throughout the complex.
* The 99 names of Allah are calligraphically inscribed on the sides of Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb.
* The Taj Mahal was built in stages, with the plinth and the tomb taking about 15 years. The minarets, mosque, jawab, and gateway took an additional five years to complete.
* Different types of marbles used in construction of Taj Mahal were brought over from various regions and countries: Rajasthan, Punjab, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Arabia.
* During the Indian rebellion of 1857, the British ripped off many precious stones and Lapis Lazuli (a semi-precious stone) from its walls.
* Taj Mahal attracts 2-4 million visitors annually, including over 200,000 from overseas.
Facts sourced from the website Taj Mahal
The writer is a medical doctor based in Oklahoma, USA. This is an edited version of her post originally shared on the Aman ki Asha Facebook wall.