In the world, there are too many photos of tourists pinching the onion-shaped tip of the Taj Mahal. The saddest of all these, however, will be developed some time soon somewhere in Eastern Europe.
It is the product of a wife forcing her less than enthused husband to walk back and forth with hand in air on the monument’s marble plinth so to get the optical illusion just right. The man looked like he had just emerged from 40 years solitary confinement in a Siberian gulag. But thanks to his wife’s insistence, there he will be, delicately holding a white marble construction that took 22 years to build.
But he wasn’t alone. I wouldn’t call leaving my camera in its bag a silent protest. Once in the grounds of one of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world, I really didn’t see any use for it.
When it came into view, I got goosebumps. I took a couple of deep breaths. Then I looked around. It seemed that most had their line of sight firmly fixed on their 4 megapixel view finders. They struggled to find that point where it would seem that their friend was holding the bulbous dome in their hand. Or that point where it looked like they were holding their partner in their hand. Or than point that looked like they were lounging like a Maharaja fold-out fashion model.
I really did wonder if many of them remembered that it was a tomb.
The Taj has been called many things. A symbol of eternal love. The embodiment of all things pure. A tear drop on the face of eternity. I read all that in my guide-book. But it is also the final resting place of two people.
As the sun slowly rose over the eastern wall of the Taj, the colours changed. The structure became pale white where before it was almost grey. It’s reflection in the pool morphed from a deep orange.
At that point American chap wearing a baseball cap on turned his iPhone 4 on himself, looked around, and said: “Go Duke!”, into the lens – no doubt in reference to Duke University that lies in North Carolina, USA.
“Did you see what I did,” Mr Go Duke asked.
“What?” replied his girlfriend.
“I just said ‘Go Duke’.”
“Oh, you should send that to Simon.”
“Yea, he would love it.”
So Simon, somewhere a thousand miles away, possibly in North Carolina, got his own memory of the Taj, his own description of what the supposed greatest man-made expression of love is life. Go Duke.
Here they were, with cameras in hand. Big old lenses. Big old carry bags. Small cameras, phone cameras, all recording their visit to this place. Which made me think about photographs more than I usually do. Hopefully, I think, photographs should record something. A moment, a place, something significant, something that sometimes needs a mental kick.
I think a camera should act as the sort of photo your memory takes normally anyway.
So if that is true then the Taj Mahal tourist cohort are all totally insane. I hate to generalise but here it was hard not to.
Many flouted the clear sign leading into the main mausoleum, “Photographs prohibited.” Instead, they strapped on their mount flashes and went to work trying to create something artistic in light that was only just beginning to peer through the marble inlay work.
They will all now have their own memories of that place. But mine doesn’t require a camera.
In a quiet corner of the nearby Agra Fort, which has a view across the river to the Taj, I took out my Nikon. I thought I would take one, just for me. Nicely framed by the red stone parapet I was sitting in. I tried to turn on the camera. But I couldn’t.
I’d left the battery in the charger at the hotel.