Po­etry in Stone

Southasia - - BOOK REVIEW -

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.

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