The Taj Mahal has survived the existential threat posed by Sangeet Som, who has successfully demonstrated that he is a blot on Indian culture. The monument to love wasn’t exactly swept off its feet by Yogi Adityanath, but it certainly looks much cleaner than its usually sick and span self. All that remains of the Taj controversy is a fine distinction made by the voluble lot online — that it is undoubtedly a beautiful structure, but the Mughals who built it were a bunch of foreign devil plug-uglies who travelled long distances to loot a great country. And Sangeet Som, who had started this cycle of Taj controversialism rolling, has graciously deigned to agree. This is the first official communication from the governments of Uttar Pradesh and the Centre since Som began to issue threats and imprecations against the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal and promised its summary dilapidation in the manner of the ancients.
Actually, this was a common practice with respect to misunderstood monuments well into modern times. In 1856, the British engineers John and William Brunton laid ballast for 150 km on the Lahore Karachi line with bricks looted from Indus Valley sites, including Harappa. Don’t believe it? Go to Pakistan. See for yourself.
With Partition, the hottest sites of the Indus Valley civilisation were lost to Pakistan, leaving an aching void in the very foundations of Indian culture. But the Taj is here. And now, with the whisk of a broom and a vigil among the illustrious dead, Yogi Adityanath has signalled that it will stay here. It was a signal, mind, fit for study by leading semioticians. It was not a message to the turbulent Som. Consider a theoretical parallel: You are asked for your views on political assassination and in complete silence, ignoring the questioner, you take out your copy of Julius Caesar and start reading.
The Taj has survived much, including the British colonial enthusiasm for picnicking in the gardens and honeymooning on the premises. It even survived Lord Curzon, who loved it to distraction and turned the classic charbagh into a British garden in his restorative zeal. Now, Adityanath has made a clean sweep of the latest iteration of the Taj controversy. And the spirit of that fantastic fabulist, P.N. Oak, who set the ball rolling by claiming that the Taj Mahal was the Tejo Mahalaya, must wait restlessly for the next round.