The picture that appears as the header on my opening page was taken from the balcony at the Taj Mahal. When I journeyed to Agra a few years ago to gaze on this wonder of balance and perfection, I was struck by the intricate mosaic of paths and ponds through which all visitors travel to get to the monument itself.
One of the students who accompanied me on the trip commented that she never realized the Taj Mahal was “just a tomb” for a favored wife–the fuss is more about what lies outside the mausoleum, the symmetrical design of the monument and the landscape that leads up to it. According to our guide, the sole assymmetrical feature is the tomb of Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, who ordered the monument be built for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who bore him fourteen children. While Empress Mahal lies at the center of the mausoleum, he was laid to rest at her side . . . throwing off the equilibrium:-)
Back to the photo. I took it while waiting to walk inside, because I wanted to capture the beauty of the tiles that surround the mausoleum and the graceful elegance of the women who walk these paths. For some visitors–both those who come from other parts of India and those like our small enclave who cross the ocean to see up close an image we’ve seen only in movies and guidebooks–I imagine it’s an adventure that they’ve long anticipated.
I like that the woman captured in the picture is briskly moving forward, past the entryway to the mausoleum, and that apart from her distinct sari she is unrecognizable. She could be any woman, I suppose, but she is also in a very familiar place at a particular moment in time. She is walking a street that millions walk every year, but no one but her knows what she’s thinking as she strolls past the Taj Mahal.
She could be wondering where her husband and children have gone off to. Maybe she’s reflecting on the beauty of the place, or like my student, thinking “all that, just for a tomb?!” Or, as another student quipped, “That’s it, after fourteen kids?” Possibly, her mind is on the humidity, the weight of her dress, or the hot pavement beneath her feet.
All I know is what I saw from the balcony.