I was eating a plate of hot, spicy aloo tikki outside the Paschimi gate of the Taj. The adjoining lane is lined with stalls selling ugly monstrosities that capitalize on one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. So, a stall may have plasticky-looking Taj Mahals that get lit up with orange and green lights on the flick of a button. For a few bucks more, the lights will also dance to the tune of ‘O O jaane jaana, dhoondhe tujhe deewana..’
There are humongous rugs on which the marble mausoleum is woven against a garish maroon and yellow background. And of course, there are varieties of coasters with chipped transparent flicks (which are supposed to be ‘mother of pearls’, no less).
Anyway, as I slurped my last spoonful of sweet and pungent chutney and asked for a plate of fresh matthi and chai, I overheard something interesting. A young lad of around 12 years and a much older man, weathered by age and climate and wearing a faded dhoti and brown mojris, were talking about where to get lunch.
Older man to lad: “Mujhe bhook toh lagi hai beta, par main koi maansahaari jagah mein nahin khaoonga.”
Young lad, keen to make sure the old man eats something, reads the signboards of the eateries there. Strangely, there are more English signboards than Hindi ones. The boy, probably struggling with the language, actually moves his index finger along the text of the signboards to read.
Finally, he stops at the signboard of a place called ‘Sheh-Jahaan Mumtaaj Lunch Home – Pure Veg’.
Lad: Hum yahaan khaa sakte hain.
Old man: Maansahaari to nahin hai?
Lad: Nahin. Yahaan pe likha hua hai – 'poore' veg.
Not everything is always lost in translation.