The Taj Mahal: worth a trip after all

Ross works hard to lend fascination to the all-too-familiar view of one of India’s most iconic monuments.

While the coverage of well-known tourist attractions was not Ross’s specialty, he often wouldn’t miss the chance for a shot, a photograph, or a brief  description. In this excerpt, he imagines that the lavish praise of the Taj Mahal is clichéd and overblown, but has a change of heart when he actually visits the mausoleum.

This reversal enhances Ross’s authority as a reporter first and foremost: on the spot, making his own observations. And, as often in those instances, he claims that in the face of experience, language is weak: “What was left to explain here!” [p. 43] (See “A night of flaming red”). This is followed, of course, by explanation. To Ross, the Taj Mahal’s architecture expresses the experience of lovemaking at its most ecstatic and spiritual.

The assumption underlying this drama of surpassed expectations is that Ross’s readers may well have been as over-familiar with the Taj Mahal as he is, given the plethora of postcards, lantern slides and other films that presented faraway places since at least the turn of the century. This indicates the degree to which the tourist sites of the world had already come to mass audiences long before mass audiences could ever hope to visit them as travelers.

Ross ends the chapter on another association of the exotic with the familiar. Recounting the life of Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built, affords him the chance to take a dig at current events in Britain. He compares Shah Jahan’s partial retreat from politics after the death of his wife to Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936, asking, “Will this king, who put his love before his duty, also be followed by ‘harem weaklings’?” [p. 45].

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Der mamorne Traum von Liebe und Tod zu Agra. In: Heute in Indien. Durch das Kaiserreich Indien, Ceylon, Hinterindien und Insulinde. 3., auf Grund einer neuen Indienreise überarbeitete und ergänzte Auflage. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1937; 43–5, 32 recto.

Topic: Weltverkehr
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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