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Blog // Thoughts
March 2, 2006

He’s NOT Visiting The Taj?

Maybe it has no meaning at all, but I can’t help wondering about George W. Bush’s decision not to visit the Taj Mahal whilst here in Delhi. Sure it is a matter of course for visiting heads of state to make the trip down to Agra andthere is no diplomatic reason why the current US […]

Maybe it has no meaning at all, but I can’t help wondering about George W. Bush’s decision not to visit the Taj Mahal whilst here in Delhi. Sure it is a matter of course for visiting heads of state to make the trip down to Agra andthere is no diplomatic reason why the current US president should do it.

However, there is a question of cultural curiosity. Even for people who harbour little desire to visit India, the Taj represents a point of cultural fascination. Some go just to see it (or photograph it), others to understand its history, others just to bask in the architectural glory. Even businessfolk on short trips to Delhi take the time to travel the dusty and bumpy road there, sometimes only for the briefest of glimpses. To come here and not visit the taj just seems, well, odd and uncultured.

Should it matter that Bush is not making the trip (one he would no doubt make in a fast and secure helicopter hop)? Well a few years ago I would have said no, but now I am not so sure. Back then I would have argued that politics trumps culture and the agenda of politics is more important. Now I am not so sure about that.

Visiting the Taj, for a thoughtful person, is always an excercise in considering the history, not just of India, but also of Central Asia. Taken together with the Red Fort, the Taj reminds one that present realities are not all there is to be said about this region. Both buildings speak to us through the language of art and architecture, they remind us of cultures past and past mixings of cultures.

Maybe I am wrong, but it is hard not to see the failure to visit the Taj as a failure of cultural imagination by this President. What he has missed is something that anyone who has visited the Taj will tell you; some things simply cannot be communicated through pictures, or words, they have to be lived.

[tags] George W. Bush, India, Taj Mahal [/tags]

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6
Responses
Toni 17 years ago

Aside from the fact that GWB is not an especially imaginative individual – at least in his public image – I would suggest that in this type of visit it would be almost impossible to absorb the atmosphere and culture on a visit of this type. On a trip like this he’s likely to be focussing on what he will say, where he’ll go, how he’ll cope with the people he’ll meet etc etc. I doubt there’s much space left to concentrate on peripheral things like playing tourist.

The cynic in me might also suggest that he wouldn’t see any value in non-American culture, but that’s a different issue and may not be true.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Maybe, but other heads of state find the time to make the trip to the Taj, especially as it is a short effort and can be combined with work. Moreover, I think the history of the place speaks to more than just playing tourist. When we let culture and history speak to us, it is more than simply and idle and playful thing.

V.P 17 years ago

As an Indian, I am not going to jump for joy just because a foreign leader decides to visits the Taj. What matters is the bottom line i.e what benefits can he offer India in terms of visas, trade links etc. That’s what matters. After that any private person can give lip service by visiting the Taj and adding another 1000 RS. to the states coffers.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

V.P. Thanks for your comments and for finding your way to this blog.

You’ve made a very good point.

The blogpost was about a potential lack of cultural curiosity in the US president’s visit. Surely in the long-run it also beneficial for India if other leaders try to understand the culture and its history and not just talk shop? The Taj visit is symbolic and maybe pointless. But sometimes symbols can reflect what is going on behind the scenes.

V.P 17 years ago

Politics is focused on Realpolitik and economics, not cultural curiosity or empty symbolic actions. Monetary and strategic interests is what makes nations and people interact. Just as it is the human condition to be selfish, likewise is the irrelavence of cultural curiosity or understanding which has very little impact on the bottom line.

It is amusing if a foreigner tries to understand Indian culture/history, but in Realpolitiks that has no relavence whatsoever and never will.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

It is neither true that politics is nothing more than economic posturing, nor is it self-evident that it should be the thus.

“It is amusing if a foreigner tries to understand Indian culture/history…”

I’m not sure what the purpose of this statement is, but if we apply it in reverse, “It is amusing if a Indian tries to understand Western culture/history,” we get a very ugly phrase indeed that right-thinking people would reject out of hand. To view the attempts of honestly curious people to understand a culture other than their own, no matter how feeble those attempts, as nothing more than comic relief is arrogant in the extreme.

Personally, I will continue to believe that such a hubris-ridden sentiment is not representative of thoughtful and educated persons of any background.

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