Poetry in Stone
Aplethora of literature exists about the Taj Mahal: one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The sheer number of books, written over time, have discussed the historical background of the iconic edifice, the details of its design and the team of architects, who undertook great pains leading up to the monument’s construction. The book under review, The Taj Mahal: Poetry of Love in Marble, discusses these aspects, but from a different perspective.
The book consists mostly of photographs of the Taj accompanied with brief write-ups that shed light on its various characteristics. Most of the literary work about the Taj admires its beauty but also praises the King who built the monument as a symbol of his love for his deceased wife. However, the rebel poet of Urdu, Sahir Ludhianvi, was perhaps the only critic to pass a negative judgment on King Shahjehan’s extravagant show of love, when he said: Aik shahanshah ney daulat ka sahara le kar, Ham ghareebon ki mohabbat ka uraya hae mazaq.
[A King of Kings has, on the strength of his riches, ridiculed the love of we, the poor]
By setting the opulent illustration of love aside, the Taj Mahal is certainly a mystical piece of architecture, which has compelled writers and poets, over the years, to dwell upon and explore the various facets of its construction.
The author of The Taj Mahal: Poetry of Love in Marble, Maqsood-ulHaque, captures the majesty of the Taj through the lens of his camera, which is indeed a breath of fresh air. Maqsood explores the grandeur of the Taj from many angles in his photographs; taking pictures of the structure in different seasons, with various foregrounds, and at different times of the day makes this book a worthwhile read. Maqsood, a skilled photographer with several national and international photographic awards to his credit, visited Agra several times to conduct research on the construction. The result is remarkable, as the book presents some impressive and artistic photographs such as those showing the Taj’s reflection in the serene waters of Jamuna, or the early morning Sun rising behind the majestic Taj, making it glitter with all its glory. The photographs that particularly stand out con- sist of unusual foregrounds, such as a herd of buffaloes walking past the Taj, or the monument photographed from the eastern bank of Jamuna, which serves as a dhobi ghat. Images such as these remain memorable due to their juxtaposed nature.
Author-photographer Maqsood-ulHaque, through his photographs has projected both sides of the Taj: the beauty of the structure and the unattractiveness of its immediate and surrounding environment.
A particular image that catches ones attention is a photograph of the Taj, seen through the arches of the Agra Fort, where Shahjehan (the Emperor who had the Taj built) was forced to spend the last seven years of his life after his son, Aurangzeb, deposed him. History also narrates that Shahjehan spent most of his time at the Agra Fort, gazing at the Taj through the same arches. Pity the King who made the Taj Mahal, poetry of love in marble, which has kept the world bewildered for its splendor yet found himself in uncomfortable solace, observing it from captivity for seven years. Sabih Mohsin is a senior journalist and radio professional with a special interest in book publishing.