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Following the Bombay bombings and shootings I have decided to do a piece on the terrorism as I have witnessed it. This is not intended to offend anyone, but is snippits of conversations, observations and my point of view.

 

My experience to the terrorism in Mumbai was first hearing on the news that there was a shooting at Leopolds, a bar made famous for its existence in the novel Shantaram and frequented by Westener types. My initial thoughts were that it was because of their over inflated prices, but as the following day progressed on a bus journey to AgraI heard further snippits of information. A bomb, thousands dead, a hotel burnt to the ground, death, death, death, the truth difficult to fathom. Later, I switched on the television to the media circus happening on every channel, repeated images of fire in the Taj, cars driving and someone shooting, pundits with pundit points of view. The truth difficult to fathom.

 

It was really happening, It was happening live, but my head said why are there not more images. My indoctrination to MTV style media was fueling my desire for more images, facts, fire, death and destruction. I wanted the truth, a truth for me to fathom.

 

I found myself checking the lock on my room and considering if I should place a chair in front of it or grand piano if I had one. I planned an escape root through an air vent at the back of my room. If anything went down here, I would be prepared.

 

But I was in Agra, why would anything happen here, you don’t get more Muslim than the Taj Mahaul. Also, I was in a fleapit of a hotel, no terrorist in their right mind would attack here. So my basic guideline on safety in a terrorist prolific world is – be in hearing distance of the call to prayer and don’t pay more than 300 ruppees a night. I returned back to the repeated images, I was an addict, consume, consume, consume. Switch off the television before it destroys your mind. Switch off the television before it destroys your mind. Something was telling me to switch off the television, the reasons I was unsure. I switched the television off, my mind already destroyed.

 

After it was all over I wanted a viewpoint, a perspective from the people, the common man, the word on the street. Many people just shook their heads, eyes down “Terrible, a terrible thing that has happened”, “Bomb Pakistan to oblivion” was another subtle response.

 

Many Muslims seemed more interested in conspiracy theories, than accepting that it could be a fellow Muslim that did this “It is the CIA, they want to provoke India to attack Pakistan, they hate Muslims”. One Muslim chap told me that “99.9 % of Americans, Westeners and Jews were evil” I asked him what about me, he said  I was ok. I guess that made me the .1 % of the holier than thou, I was honored. He must have been honored. I hope you feel honored.

 

And then there was a Hindu guy in a bar, drunk on cheap whiskey. He said “I am Hindu, Hinduism is a tolerant religion, I am tolerant, but I hate those Muslims and blacks.” I told him that maybe he should look the word tolerant up in a dictionary. He got a little upset and told me that I was a coward because I would not go out in the street and punch a Muslim in the face. Well if not going out and randomly attacking some innocent man is cowardice then I am as yellow as they come.

 

Propaganda has been filling my text and email inboxes. messages from Bombay police warning about false bomb threats and lovely messages stating that we must hold together as a nation. These people know how volatile India and its cities can be, particularly Bombay. They don’t want the riots that have happened in previous years to start again.

 

So how does a country exist with such volatile feelings boiling under the surface. Well the fact is that there are a lot of examples of the people, and worse, than the above in India, millions, but there are also millions more that understand acceptance. It is a society that has evolved with huge social differences, different religions, different gods, different castes. It is a society of differences. And with differences comes conflict. But one thing holds it all together Mother India.

 

While I was visiting the Liberation museum in Bangladesh I came across the following quote, located above the door as you exit. I don’t know who made it, but I feel it is a poignant message in this modern, terrorist ridden age.

 

“Let us remove hatred and prejudice from the world and let it begin with me.”

 

Please forward onto those who may most benefit………those that preach hate, those that hide behind the guise of their religion (All religions) and use it to justify their actions, those that cannot think for themselves.

 

I see that Leopolds are open again and not removing the bullet holes. Apparently they are doing this out of the need to remember…..and are not using it to milk more Westener types. Can’t say I blame them.

 

Peace.

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I have never been a great fan of visiting world famous sites, the 100 things you must see before you die type places. I usually find that I arrive take one look and think “Oh is that it, it’s much smaller than I expected” I buy a postcard and rapidly vanish into the nearest bar with a nice view of the, smaller than expected, 1 in 100 thing I had to do before I died, site. I guess I build the romanticism up in my mind and when I meet the real thing it is just not up to scratch.

The Taj Mahaul is interesting though. We all know the classic image of it, with or without a morose looking late Princess of Wales. Well the architects are extremely clever. They have built a wall around it so that you cannot see it until you reach the main gates which are located behind more walls and then wham it is in your face, the classic image that we have seen so many times. One big reveal in one big hit, now that is architectural showmanship for you.

Click on image to see more photos from this collection.

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Once over this ta-da moment I found myself looking for a suitable seat to look morose on and have my photo taken, but maybe that would have been in bad taste and heh I was all out of morose faces. So I quickly looked around the inside, which has to be the most disappointing inside of any historical building, but the Taj is not about the inside, it is an outside building, an over sized cake decoration swarming with thousands of punters, who just want to eat it. And that is what is nice about the Taj, people fall in love with it, it is all the romance that architecture should be, a befitting gesture to love – the reason it was built in the first place. You can almost hear the collective ahhhh from the hordes of camera clicking Japanese and new money Russians.

To get a really good view, cross the river and see the Taj at sunset. There is a beach, but be careful because this is an open toilet so sandals are not the most suitable attire. Fortunately this aspect does not really come out in the photos. Also the cows that you may see in one of my photos, well they are evil…….I had to make my quick escape, jumping over mounds of poo, as they took offence to being photographed.

 

Some key facts:

The four minarets that surround the Taj lean outwards, so that if there is an earthquake they will not fall inwards on the tomb. Again some very clever architectural design.

The marble is translucent, which is only common to Indian marble. This means that the building changes colour depending on the time of day and weather conditions. Full moon is supposed to be amazing.

The architect, the genius that he is, had his right hand cut off so that he could not design anything else like it. Or so the story goes. Ho, hum, how many other people around at that time have such an ego and the cash to spend 20 years building a mausoleum for their missus.

The masons that repair and service the Taj every Friday (Don’t go on a Friday, it is closed, it is being repaired) and also make the intricate, but tacky gifts that are available everywhere around the city are from the same caste and families that originally built the Taj. All Muslims, they have passed the skill down from father to son over the generations. A bloke in a tacky gift shop told me this, so don’t quote me, but I like this thought so I am going to accept it as the truth.

 

I fell for the Taj, its architecture and what it represents….I am now off to clean my sandals.

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