Shravan pretended reading the newspaper while Rupali vented her exasperation on the poor utensils in the kitchen. “I have prepared the breakfast. I am leaving for college.” She informed her husband in a disconsolate voice. Shravan looked at her from the corner of his eye as she picked up her bag and prepared to go. “Have a good day, dear.” He summoned courage and said. She replied with a cold stare and slammed the main door with a bang. Shravan heaved a sigh of relief after she left. He was a Mechanical engineer in a reputed firm while Rupali was an Assistant Professor of History. Married to each other for two years, Shravan and Rupali made a happy couple who displayed no sign of discord even under extreme provocation. Only one issue posed a crucial threat to their marital bliss – the perpetually postponed trip to the Taj Mahal.
Rupali had urged Shravan umpteen number of times to take her to Agra but her ardent desire to see the stately mausoleum was repeatedly frustrated by him on the pretext of important meetings or excessive workload. She very well knew that the actual reason behind postponing the trip was not his professional commitment but her feeble stamina. The doctor had cautioned Rupali against exerting herself if she wanted to conceive without any inconvenience. Being vigilant about his wife’s wellbeing, Shravan always proposed a variety of excuses whenever she tried to persuade him to take her on a trip. Rupali had to deliver a lecture on Mughal Architecture to her students that day and hence the reason behind her annoyance was not far to seek.
“So after the Red Fort, let us now discuss the intricate architecture of the Taj Mahal.” Rupali enthusiastically announced to the drowsy class. “561 feet in height, the Taj Mahal was built with white marbles, approximately three hundred and fifty years ago by Emperor Shah Jahan, in the memory of his deceased queen, Mumtaz Mahal.” Rupali diligently enumerated to her students, everything she knew about the dome, Persian calligraphy and cenotaph of the monument.
The memories of how Shravan had promised to satisfy all her whims and fancies during the courtship period, flashed in Rupali’s mind as she drove back home. ‘How can he consistently avoid something I am so curious about?’ Rupali thought to herself, simultaneously blowing horn to a fruit seller who was too busy in making a deal out of his pale mangoes to totally ignore the traffic jam behind him. Rupali reached home at 5 pm, followed by Shravan after half an hour. She brewed tea for both of them and placed the cups on the centre table. Shravan quickly changed into his pajamas and comfortably perched on the sofa. He looked at Rupali who still seemed vexed with him. He patiently waited for her to strike a conversation but she sat on the other corner quietly. “Do you mind passing one cup to me?” Shravan apprehensively punctuated the awkward silence. Rupali handed him the cup without uttering a single word. He sipped the tea, regained his composure and asked her “What’s bothering you from the morning?” The much awaited moment had finally arrived for Rupali, so she wasted no time in building the background.
“I feel you don’t care about me anymore, Shravan.”
“Why are you saying so?” Shravan put back the cup on the table. Though the sight of his tea getting cold disturbed him, yet the propriety had to be followed.
“Have you not been offering all sorts of obtuse excuses to reschedule the visit to the Taj?” Rupali swallowed her tea in one gulp and continued “Do you even love me?”
“I love you.” Shravan scratched his head in confusion.
“Any married man, especially an Indian, should not make tall claims about love if he hasn’t showed the Taj Mahal to his wife.” Rupali shrugged her shoulders to accentuate the dramatic effect of her speech.
“Shah Jahan built such a magnanimous homage for his wife and my husband can’t even take me there.” She obliquely looked at Shravan to assure that he was listening.
Had she been challenging him to derive an equation or elucidate a water-balance diagram, he would have confidently counteracted her argument but the association between love for your wife and visit to the Taj Mahal was totally incomprehensible to his scientific mind. He intently gazed at her and tried to lure her into submission by offering to take her out for dinner but Rupali did not budge. Too exhausted to argue any further, Shravan accepted his defeat with forbearance and vested the power in Rupali’s hands, “What do you want me to do?” Rupali’s countenance became more scrutable now. She beamed an agreeable smile at Shravan and said “If you want to prove your love, take me to the Taj Mahal on this Sunday.” Shravan’s brain throbbed at the thought of driving almost 170 kilometers to reach the destination but as Shakespeare has rightly remarked “The lunatic, the lover and the poet | Are of imagination all compact.” He agreed as Rupali had mentioned, ‘to prove his love’ to her. Thus, this weekend, was finally fixed to take the excited wife to Agra.
Brimming with buoyancy, Rupali woke up very early on that Sunday. She hastily attended to the household chores, fried crispy snacks for the trip and woke up Shravan after getting ready herself. For a change, Shravan too showed no apathy to get up and they were already on the way to the Taj Mahal by 8’o clock. Rupali sincerely followed the tradition of playing romantic music in the car and clicking a plethora of photographs while Shravan was preoccupied with boring factors like time and distance. “I am so happy.” She clapped her hands in exhilaration. Shravan was not too keen to see the Taj Mahal but his wife’s jubilance provided a profound satisfaction to him.
Amidst Rupali’s telling Shravan, how it took approximately twenty two years to complete the construction of the spectacular monument, the car smoothly trailed on the Yamuna Expressway. The broad roads of the highway soon made way for the narrow and disarrayed roads of Agra. The congested lanes of the city made driving a strenuous task. Rupali cringed at the reek of open drains as Shravan rolled down the window to ask a passerby for the way. She was taken aback at the poor infrastructure of the city which every day had thousands of visitors across the world. After reaching the spot guided by the stranger, they parked the car in the parking area and took an auto rickshaw to the main gate of the Taj Mahal. The air conditioner inside the car had shielded Rupali from the scorching heat of June but in the auto rickshaw, the searing wind parched her lips. “It’s so hot.” She said wiping the sweat off her forehead with her dupatta. “You were the one, desperate to see the Taj darling.” Shravan giggled. Rupali did not say anything more about the weather, fearing to be held responsible for planning the trip at the wrong time. The driver valiantly steered his auto rickshaw through cavity-laden roads and stopped in front of a yet another thin aisle. “Sir this is the Southern gate, you will have to walk from here.” He informed Shravan in a quintessential Bhojpuri tone. Shravan and Rupali got down and followed the other tourists ahead of them. Walking through the lane adorned with minuscule shops on both the sides, they reached the main entrance and saw a long queue of visitors swarming around the ticket counter. “Wait here, I will get the tickets.” Shravan interrupted Rupali’s mulling over the option of going back home. She shook her head and reclined against a battered wall. After a half hour of struggle under the blazing sun, he managed to get two tickets. Rupali felt nauseous due to the two and a half hours of drive and intense heat but she silently took one ticket from Shravan’s hand and headed towards the frisking room. She was extremely perplexed at her restlessness due to heat. Somehow gathering strength, she moved towards the gate leading to the most celebrated memorial of love.
“Oh-My-God!” Rupali clutched Shravan’s right arm in disbelief. In front of her, stood the prodigious building framed by four minarets, blurring the difference between reality and dream. Both Rupali and Shravan were captivated by the extravagant size of the ivory-colored monument which exhibited elegance, so naturally. Strips of glistening water surrounded by small coniferous trees and lush-green gardens added to the overall charm of the Taj Mahal. “It truly deserves to be one of the wonders of the world. Thanks for bringing me here.” Rupali was totally awestruck by the majestic building. “So now do you believe that I love you?” Shravan questioned. Rupali smiled at him affectionately and said, “Yes I do.” They walked closer to the mausoleum to look at the swirling art patterns contributing to the fame of the Taj Mahal. Rupali clicked photos of the monument from every possible angle, ignoring the shooting ache that had begun to accumulate in her head. After spending about three hours in the complex and over exposing herself to the sun, Rupali complained of dizziness. Shravan anxiously offered her some water and asked her to return home with him. Owing to her exhaustion and unnerving health, Rupali willingly complied.
In no time, they were back in the car and Rupali insistently sunk in the seat. “Are you alright? I think you have had a heat stroke.” Shravan balanced the steering wheel with one hand, touching her forehead with the other. “I am fine.” Rupali muttered. By the time they reached back home, her body was burning with fever. Shravan had an indomitable urge to shout at her for being so adamant about going on a trip despite her precarious health but he subdued his anger. He helped her take her medicine and to the bed. “I told you that we could go later Rupali. Just see how you have spoiled your health.” The worry in Shravan’s voice was indisputable. “I am sorry.” Rupali puckered her nose and apologized. “Your happiness is my first priority but that comes after your health.” Shravan planted a gentle kiss on her cheek. Instructing her to take rest, he got up to go out of the room. “Where are you going?” Rupali asked incoherently. “To cook delicious dinner for both of us.” Shravan winked at her. Knowing what a terrible cook he was Rupali began to laugh.
Drops of moisture appeared in her eyes as she looked at his love which existed right in front of her. She felt silly at having equated a visit to the Taj Mahal with manifestation of love. She had understood that his lack of interest in a long journey was actually his concern for her but it did not deter her from calling her friend Gunjan to describe how beautiful the Taj Mahal is.