The British High Commission had requested the Central Government to close the Taj Mahal for a few hours while Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, visited on Saturday. That is the general protocol for heads of state. The request was denied. WilKat had to admire the tomb’s surreal beauty exactly like us commoners. Even a diehard patriot will agree that can be daunting. The April heat is sweltering, coming off the blazing white marble in waves. The hawkers and crowds are overwhelming, leaving you ragged and ill-tempered. Despite that, the Taj is worth it. It’s India’s most enduring symbol with a staggering narrative, unsurpassed in the history of romantic love. More than its exquisite detail, tourists come to gaze in disbelief at the extent of one man’s grief ridden devotion to his wife.
Of all the perks of holding high office, and there are many — personal security, a rarefied social circle, laal-batti cars, access to whoever, whenever — the greatest has got to be an opportunity to view a monument like the Taj in solitude. In India, especially, where privacy is at a huge premium since there are a billion of us. Actually seeing the symmetry and shape of the domes and minarets, uninterrupted by sound or sight of other mortals would be an experience like no other. A privilege mere money can’t buy, available to the one per cent of the one per cent. Even the world falls in line and accepts that a chosen few are entitled to some advantages perhaps because their contribution to society is more.
The Indian government didn’t think WilKat belong in this super exclusive set. Maybe, for once they thought about the thousands of tourists who spend a painstaking amount of time, energy and money to see India’s glorious past. What a let-down it would be if they are turned away because somebody wants a viewing in isolation.
Waiting is an integral part of life, whether it’s at a traffic light or in line to view Michelangelo’s frescoes. It’s something tourists are pretty philosophical about. When something is magically beautiful and part of our collective heritage as citizens of earth, people understand they need to wait their turn to see it. Which is why it’s so enraging if somebody parachutes in by virtue of their power (no matter how well deserved) and breaks the queue.
In any case, India is riddled with inequalities in caste, class and income. Monuments and religious places serve as an important leveler in joining people from different spheres for a common purpose of worship or beauty. Here, there’s only one way people must be served: first in line, first out. Sadly, there is a subversive class system operating in all our exalted spaces. The rich visiting Tirupati manage darshans remarkably quickly and the cannily devout at the Golden Temple manage to whiz past serpentine lines through VIP routes. Trying to get one up on our fellow countrymen in viewing our shared heritage seems patently unfair.
This happens to some extent everywhere in the world. At the Eiffel Tower it’s official: you pay much less if you climb the stairs and forgo the lift. Disneyland, known for tedious two-hour queues and five-minute rides came under criticism when they introduced their more expensive Fasttrack pass, which eases the process. It only reestablishes what we already know about the proverbial haves and have-nots that the more money you spend, the less you wait.
Not to romanticise the virtues of waiting because it is painful, but like an arduous trek up a mountain where you feel you will never make it to summit — but eventually you do — only adds to making the journey even more remarkable.