Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Chilling Brush with Fame

One last episode.

While we were living in Bahrain, we could take short trips to nearby countries. Once, we spent a week in India. Of course a visit to the Taj Mahal was included in the plans. I had read that seeing the Taj at night was an experience not to be missed. We made special plans to be there at the rise of a new moon and prayed the sky would be clear.

We had visited the monument that day; admired the beautiful marble inlay, the carving of lace-like stone screens. It is undoubtedly one of the world's masterpieces.

The evening of our return was comfortable, the gardens were fairly empty of people and the air was still. It was perfect. We made a bee-line for one of the stone seat about mid-way down the terraces.

The location presented the classic view of the Taj. The moon was just appearing over the shoulder of the monument and seemed to be a single, pure musical note. You could almost feel it. The whole scene had an ethereal, blue-white, shimmering, floating appearance. It was stunningly beautiful.

As we sat there memorized by the view, we became conscious of a commotion behind us but ignored it, wanting to not break the mood. None the less, as it got louder, we finally had to turn around and see what the source was. Especially after someone had just said, "Cut off their Heads. HA! HA! HA!"...... There seemed to be a vortex of large Africans dressed in suits, uniforms and brightly-colored robes, all attentive to one exceptionally big man who, we assumed, must have been a general or some high rank, judging from the mass of metals on his chest. He seemed unhappy, but sat down behind us on a stone bench. After a few minutes, he stood up and he and his entourage left in another fluttering whirlwind.

We recognized the group immediately. We had crossed paths with them all day long.

While checking into the hotel and on our way through the lobby en route to the room with our luggage, this group nearly ran us down. We heard them coming up fast behind us. The clicking of heels on the stone floor heralded a whirlpool of official looking uniformed men, Indian civil servants in suits followed by a clutch of substantial-sized African ladies who sailed like galleons through the lobby. They commandeered all the elevators and left us standing in the dust.

The next day, beginning a day of sightseeing, we stepped through the hotel entrance and before we could ask for a cab, a police escort swept up and a huge limo with diplomatic flags flying and other cars stopped in front of us. We thought some great personage was arriving, so stepped aside. The doorman became very agitated and furiously waved the whole parade away. Muttering, he hailed us a cab and held the door open, waving us inside. We noticed the limo and company had circled around the drive and sat poised to sweep to the entrance once again. As we were driving away, we could hear the entourage storming the lobby and assumed the limos and escort was had been waiting for them.

We headed out for the Red Fort, the Taj Majal and the Agra craftsman's villages. By afternoon we were in a fantastic jewelry shop, about to leave when a man rushed in, whispered something in the owner's ear and rushed out again. The owner seemed to change from a rather passive, drowsy attitude to one of intense interest in us. He urged us to look at more items. He pulled trays of treasures from display cases and laid them on the counter tops. When I admired an antique Mogul skirt, spangled with gold embroidery and jewels on display, he presented it with a flourish onto the top of the glass case. He went into the safe and came out with a tray of fantastic antique museum-quality enamel and jewel encrusted bracelets which he urged me to try on. The whole glass counter top was suddenly full of rare treasures.

Quickly, the reason for this renewed focus became clear. We heard a commotion outside. Dust swirled into the door from as limos came to a stop on the street. You guessed it, here came that same mob, like a flock of large, colorful and very noisy birds, flowing in through the doors. Suddenly, we were dropped like a hot potatoes. The owner was literally rubbing his hands together in anticipation with a smile from ear to ear at the new customers. In a flash, that smile fell to the carpet when they all the women asked only to see all the 'beggar bead' necklaces. (Semi-precious agate type stones.)

We had been willing shills.

Muttering, "Thank you", we quietly slipped away..........

We thought no more about any of this until some years later, back in the States in our house in Virginia, a loud voice caught my attention. It was booming from the television in the living room. I recognized it as the one I had heard behind me at the Taj. This time the whole world was hearing it, riveted to their TVs watching the airline hostage situation in Entebbe, Uganda. The big man was speaking on camera. He was the same man we had seen in India But this time we realized him-- Idi Amin!


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