Salman Rushdie on the enduring beauty of the Taj Mahal

Salman Rushdie in National Geographic:

The trouble with India’s Taj Mahal is that it has become so overlaid with accumulated meanings as to be almost impossible to see. A billion chocolate-box images and tourist guidebooks order us to “read” the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s marble mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, known as “Taj Bibi,” as the World’s Greatest Monument to Love. It sits at the top of the West’s short list of images of the Exotic (and also Timeless) Orient. Like the Mona Lisa, like Andy Warhol’s silk-screened Elvis, Marilyn, and Mao, mass reproduction has all but sterilized the Taj Mahal.

Nor is this by any means a simple case of the West’s appropriation or “colonization” of an Indian masterwork. In the first place, the Taj, which in the mid-19th century had been all but abandoned and had fallen into a severe state of disrepair, would probably not be standing today were it not for the diligent conservationist efforts of the colonial British. In the second place, India is perfectly capable of over merchandising itself.

More here.