The glory of Taj finds reflection in a slum
The ostentatious Taj Mahal and a dingy tenement? Not much in common there, you'd think - but when the marble mausoleum in Agra was named one of the New Wonders of the World, the last of the Mughals whooped in joy at her home in a West Bengal slum.
Sultana Begum, the 54-year-old great granddaughter-in-law of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, was up at her residence in a Howrah slum, 10 km from in Kolkata, to watch the results come in early on Sunday.
"It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I stayed up till late in the night to watch the telecast of the results from Lisbon," an ecstatic Sultana Begum said from her 66 sq ft dingy room at Foreshore Road in Howrah district.
Sultana's husband, late Mirza Mohd Bedar Bukht, was the direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar and crown queen Zeenat Mehal.
"Taj will always remain among the top draws and it doesn't require any fresh voting to validate its standing in the world. When some television channels reported that the monument was slipping out of the race, I was sure it would figure in the list prepared by the New 7 Wonders Foundation," Sultana Begum told IANS.
While the rest of India celebrated the entry of the Taj Mahal into the ivy league of world wonders, Sultana Begum had only a few family members with her to enjoy the moment.
Her daughter Madhu Begum, granddaughter Roshna Ara and brother Parvant Singh Maihari were basking in the reflected glory of the luminescent white monument built by their forefathers.
"I wish I could celebrate the occasion with friends, family and neighbours. But I can't celebrate in a way I wish to. It's impossible for me to afford all that with the Rs 400 monthly pension I receive from the central government," Sultana said.
She used to run a tea stall at a stone's throw from her house and gave it on rent to a scrap dealer. But that too folded up, leaving her to appeal to the government to grant her a higher pension and give her a piece of land.
That didn't work out either.
"In 2005, I wrote a letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi seeking a higher pension to lead a dignified life. She wrote back saying necessary action would be taken by the concerned ministry but nothing has happened so far," she said - quiet in her dignity and rapturous at the honour to the Taj.