“India can do it” said Mother Indira in 1983.
And today in 2007, they have done it.
Indians from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, regardless of whether they adore Himesh, Bappi or Rajini, came together as one in a massive tsunami of emotion to propel Taj Mahal into the prestigious list of Seven Wonders of the World, overcoming amazing odds and many alien conspiracies and geopolitical string-pullings.
In an article dated 27th May, Times of India reported:
A worldwide movement was started in 2001 to protect humankind’s heritage across the globe by bringing out a new list of the Wonders of the World. It was exactly 2,200 years after Antipater of Sidon compiled the original list of Seven Wonders of the World. Twenty-one monuments across the world were in the fray for six slots, as the Pyramids of Giza are already a part of the list, being the only surviving ancient wonder. The Taj was easily shortlisted as one amongst the 21 monuments, but the journey after that has been turbulent.
The contest is to be decided on the basis of votes each of the monuments receive, and the result will be announced at Lisbon, Portugal on 7/7/07. And it is here that the Taj has fallen way short of the goal. Peru is leading the list with its Incan sanctuary, Machu Picchu, getting 25.5 per cent of the total votes. Other front-runners for the six slots are The Easter Island Statues in Chile, Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Statue of Christ Redeemer in Brazil, Petra in Jordan, and the Alhambra in Spain. The Taj Mahal is at the 14th position, having garnered a mere 0.7 per cent votes.
Taj Mahal, the teardrop in the cheek of time in the 14th position? An affront to the “India shining” mentality of the “Rang De Basanti-be the change” generation, most certainly. A massive campaign started, through the media and through the net mobilizing patriotic Indians all over the world to SMS or vote online for the Taj and protect the country’s “Laaj”. Scrapbugs on Orkut forgot their desire to make fransip for a few weeks and kept bombarding scrapbooks and communities entreating people to vote. Mailing lists, egroups were flooded with only one thing: do it for the Taj. Be a true Indian.
And if nothing else moved you except displays of extreme passion, then yes we had that too. (link may be considered “not safe for work”)
To be honest, I myself had not slept well all these weeks worrying whether the Cambodians have an ace up their sleeve for the last few days of voting, whether Pakistanis were voting for the Eiffel Tower and whether a secret communique had been issued to Congress activists to vote for the Roman Colosseum. I was also more than a bit angry at those idiots who kept on saying that this contest, organized by a private entity, has no “authority” . Why? Because the UNESCO had disassociated itself from the contest, thus depriving it of any kind of legitimacy. I mean Hello? Who cares about what the UN says? People go to war showing the middle finger to the UN and noone has a problem then.
There were also concerns that this entire competition is an elaborate sham orchestrated by the mobile phone industry and the organizers, who were capitalizing on a false sense of nationalism to make a few bucks.
The money-spinner for the campaign was mobile phone voting. In India, the voting rights belonged to a private company called I Media Corporation Limited (IMCL). It controls the number 4567 you sent your SMS votes to. For every rupee spent on sending the SMS, 15 paise went directly to the government in the form of a wireless planning coordination fee. Sixty-four paise went to the cellphone operator you used to vote. The bulk of the remaining rupee was divided in equal halves between a company called IMI which collected all the votes in an electronic vault-like space and media partners like IMCL. Weber made two to three paise for every rupee that was spent on the voting. A remarkable aspect of this poll was that nothing stopped a person from voting many times.
Sigh. How petty can some people be. Here are politicians minting crores from the Taj corridor and when some heritage-conscious person tries to earn two or three paise, the media goes “Ooohhh” about it. Disgusting.
The first positive sign I got that Shah Jahan’s monument to love may have made it to the list based on the late tidal wave of patriotism was when Bipasha Basu, a known Taj fan who reputedly even has two Taj dome replicas surgically attached to her chest, was invited to be the compere of the “seven wonders” awards night. And then when the news came in that our country’s pride was on the list edging out the Acropolis and the Angkor Vat, I drank a full 2 liters of Pepsi, felt the fizz of desh-bhakti flowing through me and buoyed up by the sugar rush went on a “Compose/Send/Post Scrap” rampage congratulating my fellow Indians.
What tickled me pink were the reaction of the sore losers: those Egyptians.
Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni has said that the project was “absurd” and described Weber, as a man, “concerned primarily with self-promotion”. Nagib Amin, an Egyptian expert on world heritage sites, has pointed out that, “In addition to the commercial aspect, the vote has no scientific basis.” Egypt has voiced its concerns that such campaigns may undermine the preeminence of its pyramids, the only surviving Wonder among the historical Seven Wonders of the World compiled by Philon. In reaction to such opposition, Weber made the pyramids of Giza an “Honorary New7Wonders Candidate”. This meant that the place of the pyramids was secure as an additional Wonder to the seven being voted upon.
Honorary New7Wonders Candidate? Sounds suspiciously like the consolation prizes I used to get each year at the Dover Lane drawing competition —-those worthless steel rings of metal I liked to imagine was the silver.
Hah. I know how exactly Egypt feels.
And I like it.
Once the Pepsi bottle finished and my inbox filled up with reply congratulations, I was awash, more than ever, with pride. The pride of belonging to a country whose citizens, can SMS and vote online like no other nation in the world. The glory of being part of this, the great generation of Indians, who, in a few days of frentic activity involving simply their fingers, altered the course of the history of the world.
And I wondered. What if? What if, many ages ago, we had the technology we have today? We could have reported the Rowlatt Act as bogus through simple clicks in Orkut, launched SMS campaigns for the release of that man who gave us “Gandhigiri”, and dialed into FM stations to express our solidarity with those dudes in Champaran. How cool would that have been !
But wait, oh Indians. Our work is not finished yet. No I am not asking you to now actually go and show your love for the Taj by doing something to clean up the filth surrounding our national pride. Of course that’s not important. I am merely drawing your attention to the new competition the “New Seven Wonders Of the World” people have initiated called “The Seven Natural Wonders of the World“.
Nominations are being invited right now and I beseech all of you to not wait till the last minute like last time and send in, in unprecedented numbers, the names of the “natural wonders” we Indians treasure.
Namely: “Gunda”director Kanti Shah’s brain, Himesh’s nose and the average technosavvy Indian’s SMSing finger.
[Pictures courtesy Times of India]