The Taj Mahal is the world’s only monument built to memorialize love. I won’t describe it because everyone has seen pictures, if not the real thing. However, I will say that it looks pure white from a distance, but as you approach you begin to see the subtle nuances in the marble. Like love, it’s much more complicated up close.
The queen for whom it was built died at thirty-nine, giving birth to her fourteenth child. On her deathbed she asked two things of her husband: To build her a glorious tomb, and that he never marry again. Am I the only one who senses world-class jealously in that request? Nevertheless, the Taj took twenty-two years to build and the king never re-married during the thirty-five years he lived after her death. I wanted to ask whether he ever had a girlfriend or two, but of course that question would not be in the spirit of the Taj Mahal. Still I wondered, and please don’t tell me I’m the only one who ever did.
The king and his queen are buried side by side in twin marble sarcophagi, and as I gazed upon their eternal togetherness I couldn’t help but wonder whether the monument left the world in awe because their love was so great or because that kind of love is so unbelievably rare. The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world, but maybe the real wonder is that there ever was a love so profound and enduring between and man and a woman. And that it happened in India where marriages are arranged for practical reasons, never for love.
Let’s not forget, he was a king who could easily afford to build his spectacular necropolis. Was his commissioning of this huge project a greater sacrifice or a more moving gesture than a poor man who spends his last rupee on flowers for his wife’s funeral bier?
I know it’s a measure of my cynicism that I did not swoon at the world’s only monument built to memorialize love. The engineering, the craftsmanship, the artistry—yes—that was impressive and very beautiful. But the love story? Meh. I have my doubts.