Maharashtra: Nothing fake about it

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid visits a photogenic spot that isn't quite as famous as it looks.

A shy young Indian woman's unscripted family photo. Photo / Graham Reid
A shy young Indian woman's unscripted family photo. Photo / Graham Reid

Among the many thousands of photos of the late Princess Diana, a few stand out, mostly for the weight of emotional meaning imposed on them.

One of the most notable - taken on her 1992 trip to India with her husband Charles when their marriage was in tatters - shows her seated alone and pensive at the Taj Mahal.

Here, at the great monument of the passion a man had for his wife, the lovelorn woman who wanted to become the queen of people's hearts sits squinting uncomfortably, a solitary and vulnerable figure.

Of course the whole thing was calculated for effect and an obvious set-up - where were all the other tourists? - and a compliant media could hardly fail to milk the emotional resonances.

These days, when people get themselves photographed crossing Abbey Rd in imitation of the Beatles or pose presidentially outside the White House, it's fun to replicate iconic images.

But to do the Di pose at the Taj Mahal is impossible. A couple of million people traipse through every year and the chances of getting a photo with no one else in it might mean a very long wait.

There is another option, however. In Maharashtra state at the town of Aurangabad is the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara, a 17th-century mausoleum that bears more than a passing resemblance to its more famous predecessor near Agra.

According to a sign outside - contradicted by online references - the "mini-Taj", as it is widely known, was built by a Mogul emperor in memory of his mother. It is a rather lovely building, although it is the similarity to the Taj Mahal that draws most comment.

It's not the same: the pillars leading to it are octagonal not round, it is much smaller (and more intimate) and there are fewer domes. But because it is less busy you can amuse yourself by adopting the Di pose on the similarly placed seat and carry home a snapshot of silliness.

This mini-Taj, however, is worth a visit in its own right. Inside it is cool, the light comes in shafts through the latticework of the windows casting interesting patterns on the walls, and the decorative designs on the marble are suitably understated.

People come and throw money on the grave of its sole inhabitant - the daughter-in-law of Mumtaz Mahal for whom the original Taj was built, I was told - and make wishes or say prayers. It was also designed by the son of the main man who drew up the actual Taj, so it's a multi-layered homage however you wish to read it. Taj-like, we might argue.

Which is all very interesting, but really you just want to get your photo taken striking the Di pose, as I did to the bewilderment of locals.

Graham Reid poses in front of the mini-Taj. Photo / Graham Reid

Then, something unexpected happened. A young woman, perhaps no more than 20, sat awkwardly on the bench with the mini-Taj behind her and self-consciously waited for her father's camera to click.

She radiated youth and embarrassment at having the family cajole her into having her picture taken. It was an unscripted moment full of honest innocence, her life was all before her and who could know what it might hold.

In her simple spontaneity and the lack of any imposed resonances - unlike its more famous counterpart - her family's photo rendered my cynical one redundant and slightly shameful.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Singapore Airlines has daily flights from Auckland to Singapore which connect to Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi in India.

- NZ Herald

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