23 March 2000

'Hero No.1' came, saw and was 'conquered'

23 March 2000
The Times of India

'Hero No.1' came, saw and was 'conquered'

By Mohit Dubey and Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

AGRA: At last, the world's Tourist No 1 can say ``been there, done
that'' when the guys back home talk about the Taj. Moving along
with a vast retinue of officials and security personnel, President
Bill Clinton swept in and out of Agra, spending nearly two hours at
the Taj Mahal before giving a motherhood and apple-pie lecture to a
small gathering at the nearby Taj Khema hotel on the virtues of a
clean environment.

The UP state administration did a marvelous job cleaning up the
approach roads to the Taj Mahal and beautifying the monument for
President Clinton but forgot one crucial detail: the multicoloured
underpants and wet towels hanging impudently from the Saheli Burj
just outside the main gate. The offending undergarments - which are
apparently on display every day - belong to the policemen who have
been billeted here for years, ever since some bright spark in the
government decided terrorists might attack the Taj. ``They've
painted and scrubbed everything,'' complained one shopkeeper. ``I
don't know how they forgot about the kachchas.''

With the administration taking no chances, Agra was turned into a
virtual ghost town. An ageing jamadar from the collectorate,
resplendent in a starched white uniform, said that in all his years
he had never seen so much fuss over a visitor. ``When Bulganin came
some 40 years ago, the whole place was spruced up. Par us time bhi
itna nahin hua tha
.'' Did he think it was overkill? ``Ho sakta hai
sahab lekin kya karen
. Clinton to world ka adhyaksh hai. (What can
we do? Clinton is the chairman of the world).''

ASI officials told The Times of India that unlike other celebrity
visitors, Clinton was as moved by the environmental damage the Taj
has suffered as by the marble monument's beauty. Seemingly
oblivious to the well-publicised marital difficulties the US
president has been experiencing, UP chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta
told Clinton, ``The Taj is a symbol of eternal love. I wish Hillary
had come with you.''

At the function, Clinton, departing from his prepared text to speak
extempore, urged India to pay more attention to the problem of
global warming. ``We don't have to choose between economic growth
and environmental protection,'' he said. ``The US won't ask India
to give up growth in order to reduce its emission of greenhouse
gases... But we should try and realise the aims of the Kyoto

(In fact, the US Senate has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol
unless the administration is able to force ``meaningful
participation'' by large developing countries like India. Even
though the US uses 805 kg of oil equivalent per capita of commercial
energy compared to India's 40, the Indo-US joint statement on
cooperation in energy and environment signed in Agra on Wednesday
commits India - and not the US - to some concrete targets within a
specific time-frame.)

In his speech, Clinton kept referring to the Taj as a metaphor for
the environment and spoke of the damage the monument has suffered as
``marble cancer''. His ending, however, was pure kitsch. ``Taj is
a monument built in love. All important monuments are built for
love .... The most important monument we can leave for our children
is the earth. We should give it to them in the spirit of love.''

No sooner had he finished his speech than a song from the film Hero
No 1 blared over the PA system. Clinton came down from the stage
and met an assortment of celebrities who had come in to Agra for the
day, obviously out of concern for the environment. Then, to the
accompaniment of ``Tu mera tu mera tu mera tu mera tu mera Hero No.
, the presidential motorcade swept out, leaving the audience
wondering about whether it was UP chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta
or External Affairs minister Jaswant Singh who had chosen the music.

No comments: