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Pillar of Strength

My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [130] | Scholarship Entry

The Qutb Minar Complex is not, in fact, right next door to the metro station of the same name. Mapless, I start walking up the side of the highway in the sun. The smart thing would've been to take an autorickshaw. A traffic cop helps me cross the highway. It's an unexpected bit of kindness, and we end up chatting. I learn of a curtailed career in law, relatives in my hometown. 'Ah, first time to this city?' he asks. My smile freezes. 'You're not here with friends. Boyfriend? Travelling alone. That's brave of you.' I take that auto after all.
The ticket advertises guides and audio books, but I loiter around tombs, fragmented walls, one of the remnants of Jain temples that remind the visitor of the layers of history written and overwritten on this site.
Here is the thing about monuments: either your jaw hits the ground or it doesn't. The enormity of the Qutb Minar escapes me. I sit down ten feet away from the base, where people gather like so many swooning suitors. How many eyes are here to see, and how many to record? Please take one of my family, thanks, now I shall take one of you. A Japanese couple shoot a brief video; the only animate beings above are parrots bickering against the inscriptions. 
Something more like the spiritual experience foreigners seem to crave in my country happens by the iron pillar. A contrast to the robust Mughal sandstone, it is a stark, enigmatic monument. I remember the old story about how it would bring good fortune to press one's back to the pillar and clasp hands around it. There's a whiff of the romantic, the absurd. Too much love is dangerous, and now the pillar is forbidden to the touch.
But I'm struck, at last, by the rawness of the Alai Minar. Abandoned after its first stage of construction, it sits heavy, as if collapsed under the weight of Alauddin's ambitions. It is a face with a mute but gaping mouth. Tourists do not seem to want to be photographed before it. What use is a document of failure beside the Victory Tower?

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012

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