Monday, 17 October 2011
The Bronx County Courthouse vs. the Taj Mahal
By Mort Reichek of Octogenarian
The Taj Mahal is generally regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world. It is located outside the sprawling city of Agra, India. Some Western historians have claimed that its architectural beauty has never been surpassed.
The Taj Mahal, which means "Crown Palace," was built over a period of 22 years during the 1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife who died in childbirth.
The Taj is essentially a mausoleum with a mosque, other palatial buildings, elaborate gardens and reflecting pools in a vast complex bordering a narrow river. The Taj itself is built entirely of white marble with a central dome that rises to a height of 213 feet.
In 1857 a British nobleman, Lord Roberts, visiting the Taj for the first time, wrote: "Neither words nor pencil could give to the most imaginative reader the slightest idea of the all-satisfying beauty and purity of this glorious conception. To those who have not already seen it, I would say, 'Go to India.' The Taj alone is worth the journey."
I have gone to India - not voluntarily, of course - and have visited the Taj many times. During World War II, the U.S. Army built an air base several miles away from the Taj to house the 3rd Air Depot Group. I was stationed there for about two months before being transferred to another unit in Bengal Province in eastern India.
During my brief stay at the Agra base, every weekend an American Red Cross lady would lead a group of about dozen GIs to visit the Taj. As I recall, the city of Agra itself was out of bounds to U.S. troops and there was not very much else to keep off-duty GIs entertained. I believe that I went with the group about a half dozen times.
The woman was a knowledgeable guide and lectured to us about the Taj Mahal's history. An extremely emotional person, she would discuss in ecstatic terms the Taj's beauty. On one of my nighttime visits with the group, I can still recall how she rapturously exclaimed: "There is nothing more beautiful in the world that the Taj by moonlight."
Responding to our guide's remark, I shouted: "The Bronx County Court House is more beautiful by moonlight." I was playing the role of a 19-year-old wise guy from New York, tired of her repetitive claim about the Taj.
The Bronx County Court House, which is located within walking distance of my family's former apartment house on the Grand Concourse, is a conventional-looking, 12-story government building. Placing it in the same architectural league as the Taj Mahal was, of course, absurd. But I enjoyed the loud laughter that I had anticipated from the other men in my group.
The Red Cross lady, however, was infuriated by my rude behavior. As I recall, she was so upset by my impertinence that she halted her lecture and hastily called for a truck to return our group to the base.
Sixty-five years later, I am embarrassed when I recall my wisecrack. But, oh, to be a 19-year-old "wise guy" again!
I doubt the American Red Cross maintains an enemies list. But if it does, I'm probably listed on it.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]