Monday, July 22, 2013

Of monuments and men

Putting one more photo of the Taj Mahel on the interwebs is very much a coals-to-Newcastle sort of thing.  And not being a photographer, really, I was surprised to see the luminous quality to even my photos after this grey, hazy morning.  But like the thousands of others who walk these grounds daily, I came and admired the most beautiful tomb in the world.  

The story is as epic as the building. Akbar, the greatest Mughal emperor, is grief stricken when his third wife dies bearing his 14th child.  He spends 20 years and untold lives constructing this memorial.  According to our guide, he planned to build an identical second building in black marble but was deposed and imprisoned by his son in a nearby fort where he had a window looking out on the tomb of his beloved.  Supposedly, this son also killed all his siblings. 

 But places like this immediately beg the question- all this beauty at what cost? Even this weekend a handful of thin men redug the lawn on a hot morning. What are the conditions of of absolute power and feudal wealth that breed structures like this, Versailles, the pyramids, and so on? It makes me appreciate the Gates Foundation more, although I hear his house on the lake in Seattle is monolithic, too. 
And while I may not be a 'high net worth individual' like Bill Gates, this sign made my own privilege clear enough.  

What stands out most about this place now, however, perhaps more than beauty and power, is some deep need to take a posed photo in front of it and no doubt post it to facebook.  In France I often felt that the Oxbridge students didn't so much visit Montpellier as much as use it for facebook backdrop (and resume builder, of course). Baudrillard comes to mind-Do we have experiences anymore, or just stage images/simulacra that stand for these experiences?  In addition to being one of the seven wonders of the modern world, it also feels like the photobomb capital of the world.  Everyone maneuvers for their spot, many pose with their finger touching the topmost point, and some, well, some do need to be seen to be appreciated. I'm sure this photo is already on fb making her small, anonymous contribution to the monumental, virtual Taj

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