The Masterpiece that represents love like no other

Weekly photo challenge: Masterpiece

You may click on any of the pictures below for a larger view.

Let us travel back in time to seventeenth century India.

MapIndia

The Mughal Emperors ruled India between mid sixteenth century and the early eighteenth century. For understanding the story of this masterpiece, the readers ought to know that the Mughals devoted themselves to Islam which allowed them to have more than one wife. Most of the marriages were for political reasons to allow two kingdoms to merge peacefully.

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Shahjahan or Prince Khurram ruled India from 1628 to 1658.

The Royal Meena Bazaar was a private market place attached to the palace harem. During the Mughal era Meena bazaars were exclusively held for the women of the Royal court. On this particular day, regardless of their status everyone was welcome  royalty and common folks. The ordinary wives and concubines became noisy shopkeepers and were found selling trinkets, bargaining and flirting with courtiers. The courtiers freed themselves for one day of the tedious court routine and even used Persian verses to ask the price of a trinket.

Mumtaz-mahal

Mumtaz-mahal or Arjumand Banu Begum

On this particular afternoon in 1607, Arjumand Banu Begum was hawking and admiring her silk and glass beads. She was fifteen years old and was the daughter of the Prime minister Asaf Khan. Most people were afraid to go to “this hawker” because they feared her father who was a powerful and formidable statesman.

Shahjahan or Prince Khurram was the son of Emperor Jehangir and grandson of Emperor Akbar. He was also visiting the festival at the Royal Meena Bazaar. Prince Khurram asked Arjumand Banu Begum the price of a glass bead in the shape of a diamond and she saucily replied to him, “The price is extremely high, ten thousand rupees and I don’t think even a prince of your reputation can pay the price for this indeed is a diamond.” The prince was speechless. Without any hesitation, he drew ten thousand rupees from his sleeve, took the piece of glass, turned and disappeared into the crowd taking with him the glass bead and Arjumand’s heart.

Thus began the real life fairy tale between the future Emperor and his Queen and the devotion he felt for her which is reflected in the world’s most beautiful building “The TajMahal”. The next day Prince Khurram made a bold request to his father that he would like to marry Arjumand Banu. The King gave his permission. Though betrothed to Shah Jahan in 1607, Arjumand Banu ultimately became his second wife, in 1612, and was his favorite. Mind you in those days members of the royal family were not allowed to pick their wedding day and were indeed fortunate if they picked their wives. After a long engagement of  five years on May 10 1612, Arjumand Banu Begum and Prince Khurram got married. Arjumand Banu Begum was married at the age of 19 and was given the title “Mumtaz Mahal” meaning the chosen one for the palace.

In 1627, Emperor Jehangir passed away. Prince Khurram fought battles with his stepbrothers, cousins and nephews and ascended the Moghul throne on February 4th 1628. Prince Khurram became Shahjahan or “King of the world”.

Mumtaz Mahal was beautiful and demure. The royal poets wrote that her beauty made the moon hide its face in shame. She was very intelligent and soon became a political adviser to her husband. Everyday Shahjahan consulted Mumtaz Mahal on matters of the empire. The Emperor placed so much faith in his wife’s judgment that he gave her the “Muhr-e -Uzak” or the emperor’s seal of authority, a mark that once made on a document even the emperor could not reverse. Shahjahan spoiled her with fragrant roses, diamonds and majestic suites in her palace. She was not an ordinary queen. She traveled to different places when Shahjahan was fighting battles. She lived in tented war camps that were portable yet magnificent models of their permanent court.

The couple was married for nineteen years and together they had fourteen children out of which only seven survived. In 1630, Shahjahan was fighting a battle and Mumtaz Mahal gave birth to their fourteenth child. The Emperor received the news of a healthy baby girl, but nothing about his wife’s condition. After midnight he received a word that she was tired, resting comfortably and wished to be alone. Shahjahan went to sleep but was soon awakened by an attendant with the news that the queen needed him. He quickly joined her at bedside only to realize that the baby’s delivery had been very difficult. By dawn, Mumtaz Mahal was dead.

Consumed with grief, Shahjahan locked himself for eight days. On the ninth day the doors opened. Shahjahan had exchanged his royal cape for white robes. His subjects followed his example and before long the entire country was dressed in white. Shahjahan ordered the entire empire in mourning for 2 years, prohibiting all music, feasting and celebrations.

In 1631, Shahjahan undertook the task of erecting the most beautiful building in the memory of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years and 22,000 laborers to construct the monument. When Shahjahan died in 1666 his body was placed in a tomb next to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. This is the story of a monument that has represented love like no other – the incredible Taj Mahal. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)—gateway to the Taj Mahal

The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)—gateway to the Taj Mahal

Tajmahal: A tribute to love

Tajmahal: A tribute to love

Author’s note: I would like to acknowledge and thank Wikipedia TajMahal for supplying valuable information that I have used to research this post.  I am also thankful and would like to acknowledge all the sites that come up when I typed the word Taj Mahal to do a  ‘google’ search. I heard this story for the first time from my tour guide when I visited the Taj Mahal in 2003. These pictures are prints from my trip in 2003 using my non-digital camera. I had to scan and upload them for this post.

Historians disagree with this story claiming that it is a romantic fiction. They claim that the key player in this marriage was Mehrunissa or Noor Jahan, the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir. Noor Jahan used her powers and got Emperor Jahangir to cast special favors on her family, including arranging marriage between her niece Arjumand (later known as Mumtaz Mahal) and Jahangir’s oldest son Khurram, (later known as Shah Jahan).

I believe the story my guide told us. Which story would you like to believe?  Boy sees girl and love at first sight or an arranged marriage after which the Emperor falls in love with his second wife? I would like to quote Pi Patel in the Life of Pi by Yann Martel : Well, that’s up to you. The story’s yours now.

Don’t hesitate to write in the comments which story you believe. I would love to hear from you.

Either way there is no dispute that the monument was build in the name of love: A true Masterpiece.

Tajmahal photos 10

An attempt to get a typical postcard image.

Tajmahal photos 11

Notice the Intircate ‘Jali’ or latticed screen. Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth( persian, Arabic) script, made of jasper or black marble inlaid in white marble panels. Floral Inlay technique or ‘Parchin kari’ work in the Taj Mahal, incorporating precious and semi-precious stones.

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My Word Quilt

I started blogging earlier this year and many friends and family have asked me. “When did you become a writer?”

I pondered over this question and it led me to discover my journey as a writer.

My earliest memory of becoming a writer was when my mother gave me a black slate board and a white chalk and taught me how to draw my A, B, Cs and my अ, आ, इ, ई.  She held me in her lap and tried to trace my hand to follow the curves of each letter, as I amused myself hiding my face in her soft saree and sniffing the sweet smell of her talcum powder while trying to pay attention to her teachings.  The memory still warms up my soul.

Devnagri script

Devnagri script

As a child, I learned reading, writing and speaking three languages (English, Hindi and Marathi) simultaneously. I don’t mean to brag about this, since it was a norm in India for children to learn three or sometime four languages when we were growing up. With a pencil or crayon in my hand, I was a freelance writer in our home scribbling on the walls, my older brother’s notebook, my father’s official notepads and any clean bits of paper that I could find.

In my preteen years, my father encouraged us siblings to write a letter to our grandparents who lived in the village. These were monthly updates about our lives. My mother, with her beautiful penmanship and handwriting was a role model for us in these letter-writing endeavors.

Our mother and us three siblings would share one inland letter card. It was a blue inland letter card on which I loved to be the first one to start the letter writing.  Just writing the date and the name of our city on the top right hand corner gave me more joy than the actual letter writing part. I would eagerly fill up my page in a matter of few minutes. I loved the feeling of writing letters like an adult when I used a pen versus a pencil. This meant I could not easily erase the errors I had made. I was required to draw a line through the word and make corrections. It made the letter look untidy.

inland-letterMy grandparents were retired teachers and did not appreciate spelling mistakes or messiness in our letters. Their replies mostly consisted of correcting our grammar and spellings. They always ended their letters with their blessings, love and affection. As I grew up, I did not appreciate them finding these mistakes and tried very hard to write my letters neatly and use correct grammar, which I admit sometimes took away the joy of writing. I eagerly awaited their reply and would be happy when they did not find any mistakes.

In the process of writing these letters, my parents and grandparents had sewn the seeds of “writing” in me.

My father encouraged us to write a daily diary and I wrote one for a long time. Most entries were day-to-day happenings. They included short entries about pets, friends, teachers, parents, neighbors, boys, mischief, mishaps, joys of shopping and bargains, friendships made, friendships lost, growing pains, little secrets, big secrets, little lies and dreams all told candidly in those pages of my diary. During this time I also wrote letters to pen pals. My international pen pals were from Portugal, Malaysia and Switzerland. Some of these friendships lasted for more than a decade.

As a young adult, I wrote poems that were mocked by my family and friends. This discouraged me to write. I became conscious of what other people felt about my writings and their critical reviews discouraged me.

It was in my late teens that I discovered the art of quilting and hand pieced a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt for my parents. The quilt was made from scraps of cloth. The finished quilt which took more than a year and half instilled confidence in my abilities as a young adult.  This activity positively rubbed off on my writing skills. I discovered that my writing projects were similar to quilts where I had to piece together words instead of the pieces of cloth. At that point I was able to choose words, piece them together and write.

Then one day, I was applauded in high school for an essay I wrote called “ My Best Friend”. It was only half a page and I remember writing that my conscience is my best friend. I think if it weren’t for my teacher who had praised my writing, I would not have developed the confidence to continue to write.

My husband and I had a long engagement of three years. A long distance relationship encouraged me to write letters to him on a weekly basis for more than a year. I was very lucky he wrote back to me.

I wrote letters to my family in India after I moved to the United States in 1992. I was blessed that my sister and my mother wrote back to me. Other form of writings included complaint letters and thank you notes. I found that, as I grew older, even though I had access to beautiful journals, I wrote a diary inconsistently.  With a full-time job and a new marriage I lacked the discipline to write.

As a physical therapist I wrote business correspondence to insurance companies and doctors, trying to persuade them to cover the cost or extend my patient’s treatments. While these letters were formal, folks often complimented me for how strongly I voiced support for my client. I suppose there was a human emotion in these technical writings that helped me prove my point.  During these work years, I forgot to write for “myself” and the joys of plain writing.

I joined Toastmasters in 2009 and wrote speeches that were critiqued and praised by my peers.  Being a Toastmaster meant I had to write my speeches, read them and later deliver them at my club’s meeting. This fostered a habit of reading my writings aloud, editing and sometimes re writing them.

My daughter has always encouraged me to write and my husband encouraged me to start blogging. Blogging  has given me the space to articulate myself. Recently I spend a whole week to write my perspective about the Boston Marathon Tragedy – however I have been unable to finish it. It is like a word quilt that I started piecing and found my hand trembles and eyes cloud too much while working on it. I have been unable to publish a post because I have been stuck on that project. Through this experience, I learned that sometimes it is better to let go of some projects and visit them later.

After reading about my journey, you must have realized that I am an ordinary person and there is truly nothing unique about me as a writer. I think there is a writer within all of us waiting to be unleashed. A small praise from my high school teacher encouraged me to continue to write.

My goal is to be able to write consistently, have more confidence in my writings and my dream is to finish writing this novel that I have started. Whenever I piece these word patches together the result is a “Word Quilt” that could be a story, an essay, a book or perhaps just musings.

Word Quilt - used with permission from Kateri_ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kateri/)

Word Quilt – used with permission from Kateri_ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kateri/)

Your quilt may be colored differently and may have different patches. Each one of us is unique and has different experiences, which makes our writings and our stories one of a kind. If you have stumbled upon this blog, I hope you have enjoyed my word quilt.

wordquilt

How to make SMART resolutions

When we talk about New Year, we talk about Resolutions. New Year signifies new beginnings, and encourages us to get rid of the old and embrace new ideas.
How many of you have made new year resolutions in the past only to fail? Thank you for being honest. I have been there, done that..

Albert Einstein has defined Insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This year I decided to put a stop to this insanity of new years resolutions by using this abstract concept of SMART to define my own SMART Resolutions.
Being a Physical therapist I have always set up short-term and long-term goals for my patients using the acronym SMART. All I had to do this year was to define my resolutions in a SMART fashion.

My resolution this year is to become tech savvy. This is a very general resolution which loses its meaning very quickly unless even I know what I specifically want to learn.

How do I change this into a smart resolution using the SMART acronym?

Lets take a look at how I have done this.

S stands for Specific and needs to answer five questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish? Learn how to electronically pay bills. Learn how to organize my photos. Learn how to file documents.
  • Why? State specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goals. Make this world a greener place, Save on stamps, keep things organized.
  • Who? Who is involved? My husband and I are involved since he knows how to and has to teach me.
  • Where? Identify a location. Our home
  • Which? Identify requirements and constraints. We need a good laptop computer and my willingness to learn.

M stands for measurable

Measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:

  • How much? We will spend one hour a week
  • How many? for the next 4 to 6 weeks
  • How will I know when it is accomplished? By March 2013 I should be able to pay our bills electronically independently.

A stands for attainable

The third term stresses the importance of goals that are realistic and attainable. When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true.
An attainable goal will usually answer the question:

How: How can the goal be accomplished? By setting aside a regular time every weekend to learn this task.

R is for relevant

The fourth term stresses the importance of choosing goals that matter to you. This is very relevant for me since it moves me one step closer to understanding technology versus being afraid to use it.

T is for time based

The fifth term stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date.

  • When? For me I have chosen a specific time over the weekend to learn.
  • What can I do 6 months from now? Make sure that I am able to pay all our bills electronically.
  • What can I do 6 weeks from now? I hope to have a system in place to organize our documents and photos and not miss on bill payments.
  • What can I do today? Share my resolutions with my family so they can help me accomplish them.

A general resolution for someone may be taming the bulge or to lose weight. A smart resolution may consist of firstly defining the number of pounds you want to lose in 2013 followed by choosing more than one of the following to achieve the bigger goal of losing weight by :

  • to do aerobic exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day 4 to 5 times a week.
  • eat x amount of calories a day.
  • drink 6-8 glasses of water daily.
  • lift weights 3 X week.
  • Eat x grams of fiber daily to keep yourself satiated.

A general resolution may be to spend more time with family and friends:
A smart resolution will identify:

  • names of people you want to spend time with.
  • Identify activities with which you can connect with them.
  • Identify when you both or more people can connect.
  • Remind yourself why this is relevant to you and let go of perfection in your relationship.This may be the hardest thing to do. Actually pat your back when you do that.
  • Make sure that evaluate how your relationships are in six months from now and at the end of 2013.

I have heard Master Tina Newberry, sixth degree Taekwondo black belt master,say Goals you set are the goals you get. Knowing that you will not fail using smart where S is for specific, M is for measurable, A is for attainable, R is for relevant and T is for time based I hope you feel better equipped to write those new years resolutions.

It is not too late. On this 4th day of January, you can still set forth SMART resolutions for yourself.

References: SMART on Wikipedia.