By Glen Joffe
It’s hard to imagine a grown man listening intently and carrying on a dialogue with a stuffed pig, unless the pig represents the inner child of his best friend, companion, and partner Claudia, also known as Scout. The pig was a gift from a family friend years ago, and in no time she was a principal member of our family.
The pig is a beautiful shade of pink, with brown button eyes, and much to her dismay, cloven hoofs and a straight tail. She wears a bow around her neck, a tag on her leg, and has beads in her butt for balance. She was born in China. We know this because the tag says so. She is thoroughly cuddly. She is also smart, entrepreneurial, and innocent, although she has occasionally been known to gamble. She has a rich fantasy life, a sense of humor, and countless friends. When children and adults see her they light up. She can make hearts melt.
The pig’s voice is on the high side with a slight lisp. She calls me daddy. I call her Pig. Listening to her is an adventure. You never know what she is going to say. The other day she asked, “Daddy, how can I talk if I have no mouth?” I clumsily said something about my special hearing ability. Then she asked, “If the beads in my butt escape, will I float?” I remember saying, “Some things are stronger than us, and gravity is one of them.” But I was wrong. Pig can fly. She can go anywhere, anyplace, anytime. She is completely loveable and 100% magical.
So it came as a real shock when Pig was denied entrance to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal. Getting into the Taj Mahal is like going through security at the airport. When the line finally arrived at the entrance gate we passed through an old style metal detector and were unceremoniously searched by a soldier on the other side. He waved me forward, patted me down and examined the contents of my shoulder bag. That’s when he discovered Pig. She was taking a nap inside, in the shade away from the blazing sun.
The only time the soldier cracked a smile was when he pulled Pig out of my bag. He held her up to the other soldiers as if she was some sort of trophy, and they all had a laugh. Then he erased his smile, scolded her for trying to sneak in, plopped her down in a plastic bin and said she could not enter. “She’s just a stuffed animal,” I argued. He looked at me quizzically, wondering why I would protest. I offered to buy her a ticket. The words had no effect. A guide came over to see what was wrong. He told me Pig would have to stay in a security lockup until our visit was over, leaving me to wonder how anyone could see her as a security risk.
I would have left with Pig in protest, but I was with Claudia and her two nieces, who were accompanying us on this leg of the buying trip. I did not want to ruin their experience even though mine had already been tarnished by the absurdity of Pig’s denial. So I acquiesced because the Taj Mahal is something everyone should see at least once in their life. I watched sadly as Pig was taken away to a dark locker in a nearby building. We were told we could retrieve her after our visit. I was really sad. How could I enjoy this visit with Pig in such a place?
The Taj Mahal is an amazing building. It deserves to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. At its peak, it soars something like 160 meters above the nearby Yamuna River, one of three sacred rivers in India. Its minarets tilt slightly outward. The architect designed them so they would not fall against the dome in case of an earthquake. It’s made of pure white, translucent marble. When the morning sun hits it, it’s pink. It’s white during the day. When the sun goes down, it turns a subtle shade of orange. And in moonlight, it’s green. The Taj Mahal has many personalities.
The Taj Mahal was created by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It was completed in 1648, after 20,000 laborers toiled for 22 years. Construction materials were brought in from all over India and central Asia, and it is believed that a fleet of 1000 elephants transported these materials to the site. In all, there are 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones inlaid into the marble. The Taj is a jewel box, and although it has been described as a testament to enduring love, it is still a tomb, albeit one of the most beautiful in the world.
On this particular day, the Taj Mahal was exceptionally crowded. There was a nearby festival and pilgrims were stopping by on their homeward journey. The gardens were packed and the lines to enter the building were long. Inside, people jockeyed for position to see the crypts of Shah Jahan and his wife. They stopped to marvel at the inlay work, and sped up when the only thing to admire was the symmetry of the building. As a guide continually pointed out, the Taj is one of the most symmetrical buildings in the world; however, I could not fully appreciate this fact because I was worried about Pig.
After leaving the building we did what every visitor does, we took pictures. There was Claudia and me in the garden, nieces, Tara and Suzanne, on a bench, Claudia with the girls on some steps, by a fountain, near a pool, on a veranda. It seemed as if we were taking a photo every few feet, and in every one of them standing magnificently in the background was the Taj Mahal. Although we were taking pictures of ourselves, the real star of the photographs was the building. After finishing our photographic obligations, we went to retrieve Pig. Much to my relief, she appeared to be okay.
Back at the hotel, we downloaded the photos from the camera. There were pictures of items purchased so far on this trip – camel bone boxes, a fantastic teakwood drafting table with a leather top, 12-15 foot long grinding tables from Nagaland, Tibetan cabinets, carved marble tables, a collection of antique carousel animals, copper planters, and a spectacular traveling altar from Bikaner, the city that boasts having the best camels in India – and, of course, our photos from the Taj Mahal. But one photo stood out from all the rest. It was Pig, posing perfectly, sitting on a bench with the Taj Mahal in the background!
I was thrilled to see Pig in the photo, but how did she escape the lockup? As I turned to her in open-mouthed amazement, she answered this question with one of her own. “Daddy,” she asked innocently, “did you know that true love can overcome any obstacle?” I nodded yes, but still didn’t understand what love had to do with her jailbreak. So she explained. “Shah Jahan loved his wife so much that he built the Taj Mahal, but that’s not all he built. He also made the Tunnel of Love, and if you believe in it with all your heart, you can pass through it and overcome anything. I just had to believe.” I contemplated Pig’s words and then remembered what I had learned earlier in the day, the Taj Mahal isn’t just a fancy tomb, it’s living proof of the enduring power of true love.