It’s a great ugly thing: large as a dinosaur and twice as ungainly, with massive metal chimneys and a tangle of ducts, pipes and valves. Out of place in this factory-like spectacle is the background: a river bank entombed in garbage and dank vegetation, the silhouette of a temple, the searing blaze of funeral pyres, the hiss of burning bodies, and rows of biers shrouded in white. Even more out of place is the gleam of a marbled dome rising out of columns of dense smoke and looking death straight in the eye.
The Taj Mahal is just 100 metres east from the Taj Ganj Shamshan, or Moksh Dham, Agra’s preferred crematorium. A sadhu or two sit here and there, young men in loincloth flex muscles. A scrawny old man moves around, picking up charred human debris off the ugly apparatus. A man in a bulldozer starts breaking down a wall, radio blaring, “to make way for a garden”. They boast about the never-ending queue of bodies every day, of foreigners coming to watch Hindu death rituals, the honour of being cremated here, and the new ‘green’ bhatti set up by the Agra administration. Ask them if they feel bad about the fumes that can harm the Taj and pat comes the reply: “Why should we care when the government doesn’t?”
A CONSTANT REFRAIN
Not quite true. It has been a constant refrain in the past two decades, with files circulating from the marbled labyrinth of the Supreme Court, to ministe