Guardians of a glorious past

“Hamare to ghar ki chatt se hi dikhta hai Taj Mahal!” declared Mohammad Shoeb (12) proudly. Shoeb, oval face with dark, stern eyes and Ajay-Devgan styled hair cut, minded this small shop along with his cousin brother Mohammad Aman (16). Both of them go to a nearby school and in their spare time explore their shop keeping and guiding skills under the scrutiny of Taj Mahal. Shoeb has been guiding not only Indian but also English, Japanese and American tourists. His experience has taught him several languages including Spanish and French. While, the elder one, Aman, is more into academics.

“Sana Marbles Handicraft” is one of the tens of hundreds of shops which have been aligned around Taj mahal since centuries. These shops provide tourists with mini- Taj Mahals so Shahajahan is not the only one to have one. Agra’s panchi petha, handicrafts made out of marbles, chole bhature, lemonades are the kinds of items you will discover in these  narrow and crowded lanes of this market while your way to South Gate to this incredible ‘Epitome of love’.

So was this one. Initially it didn’t seem any special.  Visually, it had a similar resemblance with others. All the artefacts in the shelf behind were no different from those in the neighbouring shops except the interesting small faces behind the counter. An hour of chattering with these young shopkeepers added few more pages of my knowledge of Mughal history. This shop is owned by ‘Baig’ family. Aman and Shoeb would be the inheritors of this shop. Their ancestors were few of those thousands of slaves who constructed this huge marble building with their hands.

I was surprised by these boys still referring themselves as “Badshah’s slaves” with an interesting extroversion. Shoeb who was more frank than his elder brother told me about how close his great-great-great grandfather was to Mugal emperor Shahjahan. It was this friendship due to which which this place was given as a present to Baig family to live several years after Taj Mahal was complete.

Initially, this place was not a market. These houses like structure were used as stables for horses and elephants which were engaged in the building work of this monument. After exhausting all the energy in the hot and dry climate of Agra, laborers also sought shelter here. Baig family’s shop is the closest shop to the Taj Mahal. In fact, this is the very first shop at southern gate of Taj Mahal. There’s another door in this shop which acts as an entrance to these boys’ house.

My unresisting curiosity made me ask,” Did your ancestors too were amputated by the emperor?”.

Shoeb and Aman looked at me funnily and corrected that no one was amputated. According to them, all the laborers were sworn by God that they won’t try to rebuild any such monument. They told me that their hands were tied by this oath. This fact did intrigue me. I realized how facts get deformed with the passage from people to people, which is also the base of hundreds of communal disputes across this globe. All their historical anecdotes transported me to fifteenth century, when the construction work was going on the south bank of Yamuna River. Truth can still be debated but not the experience.

Their history stringed with the glorious Mughal history made me comprehend Taj Mahal with an entirely different perspective.

Meeting these young guardians of history was a memorable experience.

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