When I was recruited to join the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) in the fall, I was promised many things: immersion in a new culture, work with a burgeoning enterprise, and a channel to apply my years of consulting experience. In addition to these more intrinsic benefits, I couldn’t help but notice that this program would take me to India, the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the few sites I’ve been universally told that I’m required to see before I die. Fortunately for me, despite the rigorous work schedule that lay ahead, a few days were reserved for a trek to Agra, the home of the world’s most famous tomb.
The first thing that occurred to me upon our arrival in Agra was that the city proper wasn’t all that interesting or developed, and that its existence for the last 400 years was probably contingent on the world’s infatuation with the Taj Mahal. Given the towering size of the Taj, however, there was an immediate sense that it was somehow monitoring the surrounding town and the countryside. When we approached it, the perfection of the building couldn’t escape us – indeed, virtually every detail of the building, down to the designs crafted into the walls, was entirely symmetrical.
Architecturally, the building was breathtaking, but, as our tour guide informed us, the genesis of the Taj Mahal during the 17th century was more impressive still. In a mournful moment of clarity following the death of his third and favorite wife during childbirth, the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan decreed the construction of her tomb, the Taj Mahal, with a very open ended budget. Its construction took 20 year’s worth of round-the-clock efforts from over 10,000 men, many of whom lost their lives during building. The financial cost, too, was enormous, amounting to 32,000,000 rupees, or the entirety of India’s surplus over the duration of the construction, coincidentally the most prosperous time in its history. It was, to be sure, an expensive testament to one man’s affection for his wife.
The Taj Mahal receives over 3.5 million visitors annually, and after a quick glance at the tourists present during our trip, it was clear that they came from all corners of the planet. However, we were informed that over 70% of the tourists routinely came from within India. It seemed, upon getting a better understanding of the history, that for the Indian population, the edifice was not simply a breathtaking sight or an architectural achievement, but rather a symbol of national pride. There was a certain solemnity with which Indians regarded the monument that may have been lost on the rest of the crowd, but if the Taj itself was awe inspiring, their reverence too was quite impressive.