Love in the Time of Riots

Trump Taj Mahal

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose as they visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on February 24, 2020. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

If the above picture doesn’t melt your heart, nothing will! No loving couple would miss this grand opportunity of visiting the iconic Taj Mahal, an enduring monument to the love of a husband for his wife. In the 17th century, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had built this white marble mausoleum to memorialize his love for Mumtaz Mahal, his third wife. Since its inception; many astute politicians, strongman world leaders, penniless poets, and lovers often have marveled at the meaning of true love and beauty of the Taj Mahal. This was a historic first, when an American President and the First Lady visited the Taj Mahal together. The list of ‘important’ people can be quite long as people have been visiting the Taj Mahal for centuries. Those people come from every corner of the world, some likely and also unlikely ones. A few historic pictures come to mind. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is gazing tenderly at his wife of thirty years, Lyudmila, Pakistan’s military ruler Parvez Mosharaaf making lovey-dovey eyes at wife Sebha, sitting in front of the Taj Mahal. Who can forget the hoopla surrounding Princess Diana’s solo visit to the Taj Mahal in 1992? Everyone had shed tears seeing lonely Diana visiting the “monument of love” alone. With Taj Mahal in the background, she sat on a marble bench posing for a photograph and that solitary image became the most recognizable photo of all times. That bench was dedicated in Diana’s name and now it is known as the “Diana Bench,” where people sit and pose for photos. Before her, it was Jacqueline Kennedy who went there minus JFK. Let’s not forget how Canada’s Justin Trudeau was having a good time visiting the Taj Mahal during his 2018 visit to India, even when he did not get a warm welcome from Narendra Modi. As long as one has love in his heart, Taj Mahal is a must see place during a visit to India. But for some reason, it seemed unseemly,when Donald Trump was enjoying his visit to Taj Mahal with his wife Melania. In the photo, it appears they are trying to be romantic by holding hands but something just doesn’t add up when these two were posing in front of the Taj. May be they were just thinking about the 1977 disco song, “Love is in the air.”

It is no secret that the Trumps are not known for showing public display of affection like the Obamas. This couple has come under constant public scrutiny because of their tumultuous relationship and noticeable dislike for one another. You might remember the first time Melania refused to give Trump her hand back in January 2017, on the day of his inauguration. One could see on TV that her hand wasn’t the only thing she didn’t want to give to her husband. Donald wanted to go in for a real kiss, but Melania dissed him with an air kiss that’s barely there. People also remember when they traveled to Tel Aviv in 2017; their hand holding (or lack of) video went viral on the internet. At the tarmac when Donald Trump reaches for Melania’s hand – she actually looks like she swatted it away ignoring the cameras on them. A month later, the first couple was on their way to Ohio. Donald Trump tried to reach for Melania but she wiggled right out of his grip. One could see in the video that after he tries to grab her hand, Melania deliberately moves herself out of his reach. It was pretty sad to watch.

The Taj Mahal tour guide Nitin Kumar Singh (a Virat Kohli look-alike according to social media posts) told reporters and in subsequent TV interviews that he sort of persuaded the Trumps to hold hands as they took a walk around the reflective pool. He kept his distance to ensure the first couple gets some privacy. According to him, he had to explain first, that it is a usual custom when couples come to visit the Taj. In other words, the Trumps holding hands were nothing short of a photo op of a president and his wife in an important historic place. According to Nitin, (who was in the spotlight and had his 15 minutes of fame), Trump didn’t know much except Taj Mahal is a monument of historical significance built by a Muslim emperor. Melania asked questions about the architecture of Taj Mahal. Trump called the Taj Mahal “truly incredible” before turning around to see its majesty, holding hands with the first lady, who called it “lovely, beautiful.” “One of you is going to get a Pulitzer for this,” Trump said to photographers as he “posed for a photo in front of the reflecting pool with a smiling Melania Trump.”

Setting aside Donald and Melania Trump’s love life, the bigger question is: Why Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took the Trumps to see the Taj Mahal, “the jewel of Muslim art in India?” It’s a given that there are no other monuments in India that compares with the Taj Mahal, either aesthetically or architecturally. But given his views on the Muslims (14 percent of total population) in India, many are wondering out loud why Adityanath did not take his foreign guests to see some of the monuments built by the medieval Hindu rulers. It is common knowledge that Trump is not a big fan of the Muslims either. Adityanath and his Hindu nationalist followers who earnestly believe in Hindutva do not feel shy in saying that they do not like the Muslim Mughals even when it is a historical fact that most of India’s major monuments were made by the Muslim Mughal rulers. To discredit the Mughals, the Hindu nationalists have even tried to claim Taj Mahal as a Hindu temple to the outrage of the historians and secular India. Mughal architecture defines India’s heritage and its glorious past. It is from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi where Indian Prime Ministers including Narendra Modi address the nation of India on August 15,its Independence Day. This historic palace, also known as Lal Quila was built by Shah Jahan. It was used to deliver the first speech by Jawaharlal Nehru after gaining independence from the British and has since remained a tradition.

Similarly, Taj Mahal is very relevant to India’s image,and it is considered India’s pride despite what the Hindu nationalists are saying or believe. Recently, the controversy became very intense after Taj Mahal’s name was excluded from a 32-page official government tourism brochure called “Uttar PradeshTourism: Unlimited Possibilities.” In explaining why Taj Mahal’s name was conspicuously absent, prominent Indian writer and columnist Nilanjana S Roy told CNN, in 2017, “To think of that period in narrow terms as ‘Islamic’ — and therefore to be rejected — is divisive and a historical. Previous attempts to claim the Taj Mahal as a Hindu temple have been made for over a decade, and this present rejection of one of India’s most beautiful and beloved monuments is basically a crude move in an ongoing campaign of religious identity politics.”

Perhaps at the backdrop of riots brewing in Delhi, as nationalist Hindus wanting to settle the scores with their Muslim neighbors during the Trump visit;this was not the best time for Adityanath to take the Trumps to visit the Taj Mahal. As of this writing, “At least 32 people were killed and more than 200 were injured in Delhi after four straight days of clashes over the disputed new citizenship law”, reports Indian news broadcaster NDTV.According to the New York Times, “Members of a Hindu mob, armed with crude weapons, begged the police to let them attack Muslims.” “Give us permission, that’s all you need to do,’’ one mob leader said. “You just stand by and watch. We will make sure you don’t get hurt… Then he used a slur to refer to Muslims.”

All this was happening as riots broke out between the supporters and opposers of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Protesters were clashing with one another and were killing the Muslims, injuring hundreds, and burning the Muslim houses. Lootings took place in some of the predominantly Hindi neighborhoods in Delhi,where a few Muslim families lived. On February, 25, their businesses and homes were set on fire by mob and an 85-year-old woman named Akbari was burnt to death when her house was going up in flames in Delhi’s Gamri extension. Her son’s tailoring workshops on the first two floors were also torched. Akbari was too old to run to the roof to take refuge with her family, reports It is appalling that the Hindu nationalists in some instances with the help of police are killing and burning the houses of the Muslims, and yet their leader Yogi Adityanath took pride in showing off Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahalto the first couple of the United States.

The Indian Cultural Ministry had closed the Taj Mahal for an hour, to accommodate a private tour for Donald and Melania Trump. As riots broke out in Delhi, both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump went on with the business of the day, as if everything is normal. Melania Trump stopped by at a south Delhi government school to observe their “happiness curriculum.” Both leaders engaged themselves in “florid language about the strength of their relationships,” while Akbari was burning to death on the third floor of her Delhi home.

To the rest of the world, India’s name is synonymous with Taj Mahal, and the monument’s place in Indian history and culture remains intertwined. Even the hardcore nationalist Hindus cannot erase history, nor can they deny the important visitors from seeing the Taj Mahal. Trump, as a former real estate Mughal, had tried to imitate the Taj in building his infamous golden and glitzy casino resort called “Taj Mahal”in 1990.In terms of beauty and architecture, his tacky looking Taj Mahal will not even come close inpassing the quality test, as he altogether skipped the marble part. Several years after, he went bankrupt and sold it. Perhaps that is why he was curious to see the real Taj Mahal with his own eyes just to compare. If he could find a few similarities, by now he would have taken the tweeter world by storm.He saw his creation pales in comparison to that of Shah Jahan’s. Possibly, Donald and Melania Trump took a lesson as to how it feels to be humble in the presence of one of the world’s most beautiful creation of such awesome magnitude, as they admired its beauty. For once, even if it was coerced, Donald and Melania Trump acted like a couple in love when they took a sunset stroll outside the Taj Mahal, a symbol of everlasting love.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA




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