Villagers made fun of former postmaster Faisal Quadri when he first began building a Taj Mahal replica on the land next to his house but no more, now he commands respect in the sleepy village in rural Uttar Pradesh. He refers to the monument as ‘yaadgaar’ meaning ‘in memory of’ and he built it to honour the wife he loved for 60 years, Begum Tajmulli, who died on the 23rd September 2011 aged 73. Quadri, a retired postal clerk began work on the tomb resembling a miniature Taj Mahal, 5 months after Begum died, in February 2012. He has so far spent 9 lakhs (approx £10,000) on it which he has largely funded by sellng a parcel of land. There’s more to do to complete the structure and Qadri, 77, admits that it does not stand comparison to Shah Jahan’s marble mausoleum. But his heart is surely the equal of the 17th-century Mughal ruler in its devotion to his late wife.
Given the routine, callous abuse and abandonment of many women in India who fail to produce a son, its heartening to report for a change on the opposite. Faisal and Begum’s marriage was arranged, she was his cousin and they wed while still in their teens but their love flourished. Their bond was sealed when he refused to bow to family pressure and take a second wife after a tumour removed from her uterus left her unable to have children. It was only when she lay dying from cancer that he began to worry about an absence of heirs.
“Who will mark our deaths when we are gone?” I told her: “Don’t worry, I will make sure you are remembered not just on your death anniversary but for many years to come.”
Armed only with a dog-eared brochure from a visit to the Taj Mahal many decades earlier and a few rough sketches, Mr Qadri began working on his own scaled-down version in the field to the rear of his modest home four hours drive from Delhi. Though made of concrete and unfinished (he says it will cost a further 600,000 rupees to clad the structure in marble) the place has real presence and is remarkably reminiscent of Shah Jahan’s monument in an affectionate thumbnail sketch kind of way.
“He was a king,” he says of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
“I have to build according to my capacity. Also he used government money to build it — I have taken money from no one.”
Progress is therefore limited by his income, he says he can spend only 100,000 rupees a year. But, brimming with spirit and good humour, he’s adamant that he will live to complete the project and be buried in the space he has left at Begum’s side in the monument’s basement crypt.
The final stone will bear the inscription. “This is not the Taj Mahal but it is the memory of love.”
I was commissioned by The Times (London) to shoot this story, the full article can be found here by Francis Elliot to whom I owe thanks for his permission to borrow from the same.
Method: all natural light, Nikon D700 and D3s except for second shot of Mr Quadri inside the mausoleum which was brightened up a bit with a Nikon SB900 Speedlight held off camera to left on a SC-29 extension cord.