Travel

How Supriya Cheriyan finally saw the Taj Mahal on her 94th birthday

When my mother, Supriya Cheriyan casually mentioned to me that she had not seen the Taj Mahal, I was astounded.

My mother modelled for her first TV commercial at 87. She drove her car until she was 90. Shot a music video at 91 and acted in The Little Theatre’s Star Warz Christmas pantomime in 2016 as the elder Princess Leia at 92. I was shocked as Ma and Baba were a pre-Independence love story. They studied in Calcutta University from 1945 to 1947 and were both part of the freedom struggle and the Quit India Movement.

How Supriya Cheriyan finally saw the Taj Mahal on her 94th birthday

Baba was part of Professor PC Mahalanobis’ team that set up the Indian Statistical Institute and also worked on India’s first Five-Year Plan. I have also seen pictures of him at the Taj Mahal. After Baba retired from the United Nations and they returned to Thiruvananthapuram, Ma did suggest they visit the Taj Mahal. My father was not too keen and my mother, the eternal romantic, said she would go only if he went with her. Baba passed away in 2004.

I asked her if she would like to go on her 94th birthday. She agreed, and before she changed her mind, I booked the air tickets and the hotel.

After a flight to Delhi, we drove to Agra with a well-informed Bheem Singh as our driver. On the highway, we stopped at Gulshan Number 1, a dhaba, to eat aloo parathas dripping with butter and achar.

We reached Fatehpur Sikri (Akbar’s city of victory) in time for lunch. Bheem Singh took us to what was the best restaurant, Sher-i-Punjab. We ordered rice, dal makhani, mixed vegetables, curd and pickle. It came at the princely cost of ₹875.

We learnt that our vehicle was not allowed to go up to the entrance of the fort, which was easily one-and-a-half kilometres from the parking lot. It was impossible to wheel the wheelchair for such a distance and the bus was too high for Ma to climb into. We almost abandoned the idea, but then decided to ask a kind, young IAS officer we had recently met. He suggested we speak to the officer-in-charge of monuments. The gentleman was on leave and our next port of call was a retired Air Force officer who was in charge of the museum. He permitted our driver to drive right up to the heritage site.

The heritage site is wheelchair-friendly and we spent about two hours exploring it. Ma, who was reluctant to sit on the wheelchair initially, later agreed that she was glad she was on one, as otherwise she may not have enjoyed the heritage spot as much as she did.

She savoured the beauty of the red sandstone and the intricately-embellished architecture. She also loved the openness of the space, the cool breeze and the green parrots that were perched on walls and flying around.

We reached Agra late in the evening, and early the following morning, we left for Taj Mahal. But first we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her! “Who would think that at 94 I would be coming to visit the Taj Mahal!” she said.

Bheem Singh took us there and we were inside in no time. Thankfully, the Taj Mahal is wheelchair-friendly too (except for the strenuous climb to view the actual tombs). But Ma did it, with some help.

It was worth the effort as Ma sat there looking at the Taj, lost in thought. Sitting there, she broke into a Bengali song she knew from youth about the Taj Mahal.

A couple from the Channel Islands recorded the song to play to their 93-year-old mother who still plays golf.

It was a perfect visit to the Taj Mahal. We returned to a scrumptious breakfast and headed back to Delhi.

This is what my 94-year--young Ma has to say: “The Taj Mahal more than lived up to my expectations. I was impressed with the fact that a husband took so much trouble to build such a beautiful monument to his wife. How many men have made such a huge monument to show their love for their wife?”


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 2:47:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/love-never-ages/article25613130.ece

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