$56 million is a lot of money, unless you are a Saudi prince or a US arms manufacturer but, in a country as poor as Bangladesh, it’s a shit load of cash which could be spent on no end of worthy projects to help those suffering from poverty. But rich film-maker Ahsanullah Moni had a better idea to help the poor, he would build them a replica of the Taj Mahal. No doubt the masses were dancing in the streets and praising his name when they received the great news of his impending project. When you have lost most of your family and entire livelihood to floods and forced to move half way across the country to live in a pile of rubbish masquerading as a home beside a lake of sewage, as you watch your neighbours die of cholera, what could brighten up your day more, knowing that if you had some money you could spend it on going to visit a copy of a building you haven’t heard of because you never went to school?
Undeterred by a complete absence of common sense, he enlisted a group of architects to take their tape measures to the real Taj Mahal in India and knock up some plans for a slightly less impressive version, more suited to his own, simple countrymen. Five years later and some fields an hour east of Dhaka were graced with one of the finest shrines to utter pointlessness the world has ever known.
I admit I wasn’t expecting great things from the site but greater doubts crept in as the CNG (as auto rickshaws are called in Bangladesh as they run on Compressed Natural Gas) lurched and bumped over the potholed access road, after all if you are going to spend millions on a major tourist project you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a few bucks for a lorry load of asphalt and some wages for a few hard up locals to fill in some holes.
With nearly thirty years experience in the construction industry my first thought on viewing the excuse of a monument was, “where in fuck’s name did the other $55.5 million go”? That kind of money in the UK would have bought you something a lot bigger and a lot more impressive but in Bangladesh, with $5 being a reasonable days wage, it could have bought a life-size version of the Death Star. Whilst I have not been to the actual Taj Mahal, I am reasonably confident that Shah Jahan didn’t pop down the local DIY store to get something looking suspiciously like modern bathroom tiles to cover the monument to his beloved Mumtaz, so the claim that the same marble as the original had been specially imported can probably be described as what’s known in the trade as, a complete load of bollocks.
We can conclude one of two things from this evidence: either he lied about the expense to give the impression it is something more impressive than the reality in order to get the punters in, or he’s a total half-wit and the builders must have been laughing all the way to an early retirement in the Bahamas.
All we are left with is a grand folly which provides a pleasant half hour of distraction for the middle classes of Dhaka to indulge in the national sport of taking umpteen photos of each other, a perfectly harmless past time but one that will remain forever elusive to the masses of Bangladesh.