Monuments of Mughal India never fail to strike an emotional chord with visitors

How many people weep when they visit Humayun’s tomb, which is the last resting place of several royals of the House of Taimur, or for that matter the precincts of Qutubuddin Kaki’s dargah where too Mughal kings and princes are buried? One doesn’t know of any, except perhaps Bahadur Shah Zafar who sought safety at the tomb of his ancestors in 1857. Be that as it may, Sharon Stone, the Hollywood actor , made history recently by becoming the first celebrity in recent times to weep over the graves of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, much as the royal couple’s daughters must have done long ago. Jahanara and Roshanara probably did it out of a deep sense of personal loss but Sharon was overwhelmed by the love story that gave birth to the Taj Mahal (described as “A tear-drop on the face of Time”). Wiping her eyes she came out of the Cenotaph Chamber, after hearing the famous echo raised by the Khadim, to view the Yamuna and watch it meandering on to join the Sangam at Allahabad. But what made her weep again was the sight of the body of an infant being pushed about by a giant tortoise in the turbid water and some people defecating on the other side of the river. Delhi’s Nigambodh Ghat too is not devoid of such scenes. No wonder she commented that a visit to India was “both sweet and sorrowful”.

Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot were not exactly forthcoming in their praise of the Taj but Queen Soraya liked it very much when she came with the Shah of Iran and also visited Fatehpur Sikri to seek in tears, the blessings of Sheikh Salim Chishti, so that she could bear a son and heir. But her wish remained unfulfilled and she was divorced not long after. Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko, as the Japanese Crown Prince and his consort, visited both the Taj and Humayun’s tomb, with the later-to-be Maharaja of Jaipur, Lt-Col Bhawani Singh, escorting them as military attaché to President Rajendra Prasad. Now as Emperor and Empress they are visiting India again to revive memories but they are past the age when they could become over-emotional. Even Princess Diana, who visited the Taj alone as Prince Charles was supposedly busy elsewhere, did not weep inside the Cenotaph Chamber. Her eyes became moist only when she sat on the exalted marble seat above the lotus pond as she felt lonely without her husband at a spot where couples flaunt their affection in accordance with the conjugal love symbolized by the Taj. Jahanara’s tomb at Nizamuddin Dargah, partly of mud as per her wishes, and the more grandiose one of Roshanara in the garden named after her, do not generally have visitors shedding tears. The two died as spinsters, though both are said to have had affairs which did not consummate in marriage because of the Mughal tradition of warding off contenders to the throne from the female line.

Dead poet’s love story

However, if oral history is to be believed, a dying poet who had fallen in love with Jahanara (defying the adage “Par kartarney ko kainchian lagi hain dewar par”) had expressed the wish that his remains be re-interred near those of his lady-love after she too expired. The poor dejected poet was too small a fry to have his wish granted by Aurangzeb who, in any case, did not like Jahanara and was closer to his confidante Roshanara. The latter, however, did not pine for any lover as she was not as tender-hearted as her elder sister, who was a noted poetess too. But believe it or not, there was a young man called Yusuf Hussain, a disoriented sort of chap wearing a Sufi cap and attire, who recited verses of mystic love at Jahanara’s grave. This happened after he had seen the 1960s film Jahanara at the now closed Jagat Cinema in Jama Masjid’s Macchliwalan area. Yusuf, handsome and eloquent, was much sought after by the gay men of those days, who sometimes made life miserable for him and he had to run away to Nizamuddin, where he squatted at the humble tomb, put his head between his black lungi-drapped legs and wept his heart out as though seeking solace from the love-born princess. Except for her and Madhubala (who played the role of Anarkali) he was not attracted to any other woman and was content to take refuge in his Narcissus complex. Well Yusuf is long dead. Some say that he was pushed into an overflowing nullah in Nizamuddin and others that he was stabbed between the hips by an infatuated poultry seller of Seelampur and died of excessive bleeding. Whatever may be the truth one misses him alright. About the Roshanara’s tomb, near which the Roshanara Club came up in 1922, also there’s a story. A British lieutenant who used to visit the club spent some time weeping at the grave of the princess after having his drinks. Probably he had fallen in love with Roshanara (if the living could do so with the dead). The late Raj Chatterjee, who became a member of the club later, vouched that the story was true and that Lieutenant Sharpe had to be sent back home as a nervous wreck. But for Sharon Stone to be moved to tears by a Khadim’s account of the royal romance is something unusual. Could it be that it reflected her state of mind after some recent emotional setback?

Incidentally, the Lady of the Taj is regarded as a patroness of women in distress. Even so let’s savour Sharon’s deeply heaved sigh that mingled with tears to become a sonorous echo in the high-vaulted dome of the edifice of eternal love. Some say the Aga Khan looked as deeply moved after his Trust’s renovation of Humayun’s tomb.

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