Once upon a time, there was a boy. Intelligent, caring, sensitive and ambitious. When he came of age, he fell in love with a girl who adored him with an equal intensity. Together, they fashioned for themselves a life of unparalleled harmony-a small piece of heaven removed from the cares of the world, filled with the ecstasy and exuberance that love inspires. As they grew older together, they unconsciously gave form to one of the most hauntingly beautiful romances ever.
But nothing lasts forever. And at the tender age of 37, the wife died during childbirth. Given his stature and his appeal, everybody expected the husband to find a new consort and move on with what remained of the day. But they had grossly undermined his love for her. So grief-stricken was he by her irrevocable absence that he almost gave up on life itself. His ambitions met with a premature demise, he barely ate and all the little pleasures which once had given him so much joy now merely served as reminders of a paradise lost forever. He aged overnight and paced endlessly in his disconsolate state, trying to comprehend why providence had chosen him for this tragedy. Why do we meet someone when fate has already decreed that we must part before the association bears its full fruition?
And then he remembered his promise to her-that he would not let the world forget about her, about them. As the Greeks said, “Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis”. Not for you, not for me, but for us. Suddenly, gone was the morose frame of mind, the lethargy and the indolence. Replaced with a definite vision as it was, it gave him hope and a sense of purpose.
And thus started the construction of a memorial for his wife. It would take 20 long years before it was unveiled to the world but history stands testament that not a single day went by when the Emperor himself did not visit the site to personally supervise its progress. And thus was created the monument that Tagore so famously described as “a teardrop on the cheek of time”. The Taj Mahal. Not just India’s most famous cultural icon, not just a marvel in marble. A reminder. A reminder of one man’s undying love for a woman who had not been with him for over two decades.
That is the stuff love stories and fairytales are made of. Or so we would think. But then let us for a moment consider also the story of a man as far removed from Shah Jahan as can be imagined. A poor labourer in a small village in India’s poorest state of Bihar. Not in a bygone century but in this very century, infact in our own times.
The story starts again with a well-possessed boy falling in love with a girl and striving to give her more than he can reach for. They are happy together until the cruel hands of fate snatch her away forever. After the customary turpitude brought about by the bereavement, this husband too started pondering over why providence had been so unmerciful. His wife had been unwell for a long time and was undergoing continuous treatment at the nearby health centre. She had suffered paroxysms of pain in the past too but he had always been able to get her to the doctor in time. This last time, however, he had gotten there a little too late.
The reason was simple-between the village and the health centre stood a hill which doubled the travelling time. Had the hill been absent, she might have been saved. Armed with this clarity of vision, he knocked on the door of every official who could have sanctioned a road to be cut through the mountainside. And always, the answer was a sympathetic but firm no-the government could not afford to waste money on a needless project, and that too in the memory of an unaccomodated individual.
But they too had undermined his love for her. He did not have the wealth of an Emperor or the luxury of an empire at his disposal. What he did have was just four things-an undying love, a clarity of purpose, a shovel and a spade.
And thus started the construction of a memorial for his wife. Armed with his meagre tools and the ferocity of his determination, this one man started cutting away at the mountainside. Alone and single-handedly, he started his herculean task and kept at it doggedly till even the mountain made way for him and he was able to cut a road across it. By some mischievous quirk of fate, he too took 20 years to complete his labour of love. The government took due notice of his feat and the road was metalled soon thereafter. The Chief Minister of Bihar invited him for the inauguration of the road-a standing testimony to the ecstasy and exuberance that love inspires. Baba Dashrath Manjhi died soon thereafter.
The road still stands. A teardrop on the sands of time. Not just another macadam road in India’s forgotten hinterlands, not just another instance of asphalt on rock. A reminder. A reminder of one man’s undying love for a woman who had not been with him for over two decades.
"Absence diminishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire"