You may not know it, but this is love too

You may not know it, but this is love too

When men are in love, they do anything to surprise a woman. Flowers in the most unexpected moments, gifts that would surely leave her speechless, marriage proposals in the most unlikely places or situations, jewels – better if diamonds because, as you know, a diamond is forever. She is moved and weeps with joy, the memory goes on for a while, then it’s all back to normal. Everything flows.

The Taj Mahal – one of the 7 wonders of the modern world

You often have those men who tend to overdo it, mainly because they can afford it. One of these men was Shah Jahan, Moghul emperor of India between 1628 and 1658. He was so madly in love with her second wife, the Persian princess Mumtaz Mahal, who died in the act of giving birth to her fourteenth child, that he decided to exaggerate and consign her to eternity by building for her such a grandiose tomb to the point that time would even lead it to be one of the 7 wonders of the modern world: the Taj Mahal.

Local colourful outfit

Shah Jahan didn’t know it, but his love would one day known the testimony of those millions and millions of people, us included, who wake up before dawn to go and admire what the great philosopher and poet Tagore defined as “a tear of marble on the cheek of time”. But unless she gained life after death, poor Mumtaz would never know what her man was capable of to honour her memory. Nor could she brag about it with her friends during tea in her living room.

Easy to achieve this when you are an emperor, you may say. And you are certainly right, up to a point. But there are at least a couple of considerations to be made: the first is that not all the various emperors and monarchs who ever existed have built such a marvel out of love. In fact, to tell you the truth I can’t think of any. Yet I do recall queens with severed heads, consort princesses imprisoned, and other similar mocks where love was not always the protagonist.

The author and his wife at Faizul mausoleum

The second consideration relates to India’s excesses and contradictions. Faizul Hasan Qadri was a modest 83-year-old retiree from Kaser Kalan, an unknown town about 150 km from New Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He too was in love with his only wife, Tajamulli Begum, who died of cancer in 2011, so he started building a replica of Agra’s grand monument after her death, without pretensions to equal the Taj Mahal in beauty, nor to create a new wonder of our times.

He was not a Moghul and he had to make ends meet, so this project takes on even more exceptional forms. Faizul even refused help from an important political exponent of his province, arguing that the work had to be his personal commitment as evidence of his love for his wife and that, therefore, he had to finance it alone. In the end, he only requested the government to invest in the construction of a state school for girls, a wish that he was granted.

Faizul Hasan Qadri died in 2018 due to injuries sustained following a road accident. Prior to his departure, he had made a request: to be buried next to his wife, in that little great monument where, as a provident man, he had left space for himself to rest forever beside her. It was his nephew who fulfilled his wish.

Old lady selling starfruits

During our stay in India, while on the way to Agra and the Taj Mahal, we decided to make a short detour to pay homage to the grave of the old pensioner and his wife. After reading the story behind the monument, if felt the right thing to do. There, we had the opportunity to meet his nephew, the one who took on the responsibility of carrying on the works until the small mausoleum was completed. When we asked to make an offer and contribute to the project, he politely refused, as his uncle would have, explaining that all works had to be completed by money and labour coming from the family’s economy alone.

A family image

Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is India. A country made up of wonderful gestures that coexist with the contradictions and miseries of a society where women have not yet achieved full emancipation, but still too often suffer domestic violence, rape, lack of education and lack of economic independence.

A country where the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, who believed with conviction that “You can understand the condition of a nation by observing the state of its women“, are answered by the popular voice through one of its saying, which underlines that “having a daughter is like watering the neighbour’s garden”.

So, maybe you didn’t know, but this is love too.

* ”Where the mind knows no fear” is a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. When he wrote it, he dreamed of a free India, not only from the British but also from any type of slavery. I reproduce it here, as it fits perfectly with the role that women deserve in Indian society:

Where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out

from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms

towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason 

has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand

of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, 

let my country awake.

* If you wish to know more about India, we recommend:

* Photos by Guglielmo Zanchi (Pluto) 

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About the author

Pluto, alias Guglielmo Zanchi, was born in Rome, Italy, on 19 December 1960. After obtaining a Degree in Political Science at the La Sapienza University and working six years at an accountant office, PLuto moved to Phuket, Thailand, in 1993. He had a short spell at a Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in the protected area of Bang Pae, then worked for 15 years for a local tour operator first in Phuket, and eventually in Krabi where he still lives since 2000. Pluto now works self employed in the tourist sector, managing to keep enough time free for his real passions: photography, travels and Vespa, at times merging the latter two. Pluto is one of photo reporters.

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