Shortly after Valentine’s Day a friend of my daughter’s interviewed me about love. The two are working on a class project, a documentary theater piece. Each person in the class is interviewing three people of three different generations about love.
I wanted to be honest and also careful. Not only because my daughter will read it, but because while all young women deserve the truth about love, they also deserve the fantasy of love. They deserve to believe in true love and love at first site and overwhelming love and soulmates for as long as possible. Those are the stories that get you through the bad dates and the exhausting relationships and the lonely nights.
So I tried to tell her that love is real, but it isn’t always what you think.
A week later I took an online “tour” of the Taj Mahal as part of a team building experience at work. The guide told us that the Taj Mahal is the most popular honeymoon site in India. The mausoleum was built in the 1600s by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumatz Mahal. It’s seen as not only a beautiful building, but a symbol of everlasting love. We “walked” through carvings and buildings and breathtaking grounds.
Slowly, we learned the rest of the story. Mahal was Shah Jahan’s third wife, the only one to have children. She died giving birth to their 14th child in 19 years. Seven of those children survived, three girls and four boys. There was supposed to be a second mausoleum, in black marble, directly across from the Taj Mahal.
Then, in 1654 or so, shortly after the Taj Mahal was completed, the youngest son of Shah Jahan and Mumatz Mahal murdered his brothers. He decapitated his oldest brother and brought the head to their father, on a platter, Titus Andronicus style. He arrested and imprisoned his father. When Shah Jahan died, his son buried him in the mausoleum with his mother. He did not want to complete his vision of matching mausoleums. Their tombs are the only part of the mausoleum not in perfect symmetry, because they were not both supposed to be buried there.
I cannot stop thinking about the beauty of the Taj Mahal. The color combinations, the stonework, the symmetry, the way it looks different depending on what part of the day you see it. I told the girl who interviewed me that I believe love is an action, not a feeling. That yes, love conquers all, but only because you need to love in order to create. The Taj Mahal is love in action, love as architecture. But also, the Taj Mahal is a monument to something else, something we never name.
We are all, especially women, taught to want a love that could build the Taj Mahal. But what if a love that can build the Taj Mahal is also a love that causes 14 pregnancies in 19 years and an early death? What if a love that can build the Taj Mahal also causes children who brutally murder each other? who would want a marble mausoleum instead of living a full life? Who would want a marble mausoleum, even one inlaid with lapis lazuli, instead of children who don’t murder each other?
I think if my daughter’s friend interviewed me again I would tell her exactly what I told her before. That love is action. That love real, but that love doesn’t always look the way you think.