Taj Portrait 2020: Juxtapose
I’ve been one of those few lucky people on this planet who already had a vacation before the Corona pandemic hit us beginning this year! And this time it was special. Firstly I had the chance to be at my best friends’ wedding end to end at New Delhi. And secondly, however quick but to have completed my first solo trip in India.
I consider myself an enthusiast photographer, by far, not a professional. When I was on my way to Taj that Thursday morning, I looked up some photography blogs on the best places & timings around the monument to capture unique frames! Neither did I have a tripod/ model, nor did I attend the sunrise/ sunset. I was as under-prepared as I could be from a photographer’s standpoint. Yet I wanted to publish a blog which would be tips and tricks to capture the Taj Mahal frames (which I ended up not doing). So all I did was travel across the whole city in a day from Agra Fort to Mehtab Bagh, creating some Taj Portraits that you see later in this article.
More than the 17th-century architectural beauty and love story of Shah Jahan building a mausoleum for his sweetheart Mumtaz, what struck me was how it is a contradiction today. I have the habit of walking around a new place I visit. So did I at Agra. And no wonder people stopped me saying, “Sir, I think you’re at the wrong place, Taj Mahal is not here!”
Because the moment you step out of the amazingly maintained fancy Taj Mahal campus where people being mesmerized from all over the planet, you have slums lined by endlessly right across which is well-hidden from the national and international crowd. It is heart-breaking to stand on a dust-laden street with family & kids who are dwelling on the road-side managing (or not?) just the meals of the day! And bewildered in the slum, you could spot the exquisite Taj Mahal dome shining bright!
The Waiting GameSatarupa Datta
There’s a boy I see,
Standing and marvelling at the grand Taj;
Marvelling at its opulence
Trying to understand how it represents love,
Unsure and fearing to tread on its path.
So, he strays by the grass,
Circling the outskirts,
Inching a bit closer every time
Trying to understand what does this white marble hold
To pull a crowd so near.
He sees faces,
Of colors different than his,
Bigger and brighter always,
Some his age, some with kids.
Some who are aged almost like his naani,
But lacking the soot that covers her frown lines
From working over at the brick kiln.
Their eyes are wide
With shock and amazement,
Their clothes too crisp and too clean
Wandering through the monument,
So much so that he fears to taint them By getting closer.
So, he stays away from the maddening crowd,
Leaving them in their blissful and happy shroud,
For their stories are quite different from his
Which wouldn’t interest them
Or please them to send them into a tizz.
For who would want to listen to a kid talk about his naani,
Working at the brick kiln to earn their bread,
Why would they care for his dead parents,
Or that he doesn’t go to school
And sits on the grass
Looking at the Taj, playing a fool.
And so he hangs by its outskirts,
Trying to please these bright faces,
Making a few bucks was never easier
And blind his pain.
For every time someone comes up to him
And asks him his name,
He looks at the Taj
Looks at them and says, “Sir, what’s in a name?”
That evening at Mehtab Bagh after I finished my day’s shoot, I had the chance to meet Edward and Lilavati from the United States and Thais from South America. I had some very interesting spiritual and travel conversations with them. Edward & Lilavati were embarking on a sacred journey to India & Nepal with Glitter On The Ganges!
Lilavati spent a whole lot of time with this lovely kid you saw in the first picture of the poem Waiting Game! She had pretty interesting perspectives and loved children! They headed to Varanasi the next day after an early morning running shoot at Mehtab Bagh.
After spending the whole day monkeying around with the camera in the heat, I settled down at Mehtab Bagh on the other side of the river to pour down my thoughts. People around me had different stories. On one hand, lay some European tourists sunbathing peacefully under the trees with the view of the Taj Mahal. On the other hand there was an Indian Bengali family enjoying a loud picnic with the loved ones. And a lot of amazing food! There were tourist-guides who kept chanting cliche lines and making money from the foreigners. There was an Indian writer working at Delhi who had just finished his Agra assignment and was resting in the garden before he caught his train in an hour!
I had my own story! A lot had run down that day on a personal level apart from the social juxtapose! It was a perfect moment to take my journal out and scribble along all the way!