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Thursday, Dec 02, 2021
Outlook.com
Millennium Special

Yours Enduringly, India

In a land defined by images, many symbols survive

Yours Enduringly, India
Yours Enduringly, India
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

But neither changing times nor unchanging circumstances have affected earlier stereotypes. The magician's been joined in performing wonders by godmen. Unlike the bhaloowallah with his performing bear, the snake charmer's not yet been driven out of business by busybody environmentalists. And, decades after privy purses and royal titles were abolished, at least one maharaja survives - as the mascot of the country's flag carrier. The anachronistic icon and the bedraggled airline suit each other. So much so that an attempt to replace the portly prince of Air-India with the rejected colours of a sunrise transporter led to the banishment of the yuppie CEO who broached the idea. The Maharaja remains, though in a sorry state, visible only in the few places where Air-India flies today, the symbol of an airline that missed the bus.

There're other persistent icons too of India Exotica. Two mammoth monuments in marble commemorate dead queens. The Victoria Memorial in Calcutta (or is it Kolkata yet for the Marwari hordes that swarm about it morning and evening?) is the Englishman's answer to the Taj Mahal of Agra. But the two buildings represent not only different times but also different states of mind. The ethereal lightness of its architecture, its perfect proportions notwithstanding the somewhat ludicrous onion dome atop it and, most of all, the romantic legend of love on which it stands makes the Taj Mahal the ideal backdrop for picture opportunities and the subject of a million posters. Even the attempt of the utilitarian William Bentinck to dismantle the monument and sell it for its marble did not diminish the romance attached to the Taj Mahal. By contrast, the Victoria Memorial cannot but carry the heaviness of the colonial burden, the solemnity of the Queen-Empress who'd not be amused, the sadness associated with its location in a city which went into protracted rigor mortis shortly after the building was completed. But then, Victoria was no Mumtaz Mahal whose mausoleum would become the lasting icon of romance. The matronly Maharani inspired in Mumbai a monstrous mix of Indo-Saracenic Gothic-Baroque, garnished with grotesque gargoyles. It serves as a railway terminus and has its name changed with unsurprising ease to commemorate another ruler.

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