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When IITians helped make the Taj

by Satish Hattiangadi
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Hey, Grandpa! I have this great business idea. I need you to fund it. It is going to make India a rich country!”

Shah Jahan was just a teenager when he made that statement. But, as usual, it elicited different reactions from his grandparents.

“Shah Baby, how many times should I tell you that your father should be called Jahanpana? Really, you drive me up the wall!”

“Well, son, let’s hear it!”

“Suppose I made a fantastic mausoleum. All marble, and inlaid with lapis lazuli and mother of pearl. People would come from all over the world to see it. Just imagine. A million people coming and visiting every year! If they stayed for just ten days in India, and spent just Rs. 10,000/- on their hotel charges, can you calculate how much money they are going to spend in India?”

“Let us put it to Birbal,” was the instantaneous reply. Akbar had a clear idea of his limitations as far as calculations were concerned. And so, the question got relayed the next day to the famed courtier.

Birbal was keenly aware of his own limitations at calculating, and equally aware of Akbar’s lack of capabilities.

“The amount of money you will make can be correctly estimated only after you have made the mausoleum. What you have to first calculate is how much the mausoleum is going to cost, and how and where you are going to get the money.”

“Oh, I was thinking of tapping my Grandpa for that,” said the candid SJ.

“Your Grandfather will have to sell all the family jewels and then empty out the entire treasury, and still it will not be enough. In fact, he will have to hock the country to get loans, but all the ‘marwadi’ and the ‘pathan’ money-lenders in the country would run out of money to lend, and it still will not be enough!”

Akbar got his message, and that was that as far as his grandson’s mausoleum idea was concerned.

But Shah Jahan was not going to give up so easily. He caught up with Birbal when he was alone, and pushed the matter further.

“Thanks for your help,” he started sarcastically, “you have nicely poured cold water on my plans of reaching out to my Grandpa for a loan. Now, what do I do?”

“Tapping His Imperial Majesty was not such a good idea. It will keep raising all kinds of questions… But your idea of a mausoleum is not bad. It needs a bit of polishing, but we can explore it. And for the funding, what you need at this stage is some ‘Angel Funding’.”

“Who is going to provide the ‘Angel Funding’ for such a project?”

“Let us wait for Deshmukh to come to India. He normally visits in December, to catch the IIT B alumni meeting.”

When Deshmukh was born, it was reported that he would fly into a rage even before he learnt to cry. That reputation led to his being given the name ‘Jamadagni’. The reputation, of course, was quite unfounded. ‘Jamadagni’ Deshmukh was, in fact, born slightly premature, and had a voracious appetite. When the milk supply stopped before his appetite was satisfied, it caused his sphincter muscle to contract. This led him to hold his breath and press against his sphincter. The contortions of his face and the flush on his face were a direct result of this, and not of any anger.

“No, I was just wondering. When Jama gets children, do you know what they will call Jama? They will call him Pa Jama!”

But the reputation of flying into a rage stuck to Jamadagni. Is it any wonder that he was taken very seriously by all around him? Even his teachers in school would not dare to ignore his questions, however trivial or foolish they might have been. Jamadagni never learnt to smile and relax, but the constant seriousness, coupled with constant support from his teachers, helped him to qualify for IIT.

His stay at IIT changed him totally. To start with, his “Jamadagni” was shortened to ‘Jama’ on the day of his arrival itself. And, about a month later when his classmates had gathered around him to polish off the goodies that his mother had sent, Pondy Shahani suddenly and inexplicably burst into laughter.

“What happened, Pondy?”

“No, I was just wondering. When Jama gets children, do you know what they will call Jama? They will call him Pa Jama!”

and everyone burst out laughing. That was how IIT transformed the forbidding Jamadagni Deshmukh into “Pajama Deshmukh”.

The Bard of Avon might have thought that a rose by another name would smell as sweet, but that is not true of humans. Where Jamadagni Deshmukh brought seriousness to all around him, the sight of Pajama Deshmukh brought a smile to every face around him. Reacting to all those smiling faces, the reserved Jamadagni became a jovial Pajama.

Pajama Deshmukh was extremely lucky. He passed out of IIT to land up in the Silicon Valley at just the right time. He was not much of a cook, so he ended up making salads for himself, day in and day out. He made his own salad dressing, which he thought of selling locally to augment his assistantship. He coined the name “Window Dressing” for it, and put in a small ad in the Palo Alto Chronicle.

This advertisement was noticed by an executive of a software house, which resulted in Pajama Deshmukh getting several hundred million dollars for giving up the exclusive right to his product. What that company wanted to do, or did, with the salad dressing is not known but Pajama Deshmukh, the Angel Investor, was born- with a good stockpile to invest.

Pajama Deshmukh helped a lot of projects that needed financing. None ever gave any return on investment, but his reputation as a source of Angel Funding spread all over the country.

And so it was that Shah Jahan, with considerable assistance from a lot of IIT alumni scratching through their email and phone lists, finally traced Pajama Deshmukh and fixed up an appointment.

A Saturday evening in December saw Pajama Deshmukh and the Moghul Prince ensconced in a corner of Taj Land’s End lobby.

“Imagine a monument to the world’s greatest love! Or, if you want it another way, the world’s greatest monument to love! It doesn’t matter which option you choose. You are going to have droves of people coming to see this monument!”

“I agree, Shah Jahan. I can see the cash rolling in once the reputation of the monument is established. But it is a long term game, a very long term game.”

“But then, this monument may last a thousand years! Can you even imagine any other project that can keep giving returns for a thousand years?”

“You have a point there. But maybe your business plan can be improved upon. I want you to meet Pondy Shahani. He is excellent at making new businesses more viable. He is a good friend of mine. I know him from IIT days. He will help you polish up the proposal to make it viable and also have more investor appeal. Here, call him on his mobile and tell him that I referred you to him.”

Shah Jahan did call up Pondy Shahani, but could not meet him for a while, as his own wedding plans overtook him. So he met Pondy only after he had married Mumtaz.

“Pajama Deshmukh was telling me something about a mausoleum that you wanted to build?”

“Yes. I just married Mumtaz. I was thinking of making a mausoleum for her after her death, and calling it Mumtaz Mahal. A building fully made of white marble, with mother of pearl and lapis lazuli inlay work, something absolutely out of this world! A building that will shine on a full moon night, a monument to love that would last forever!”

“Hmm…Monument to love! Great! But a mausoleum? Nah! Tourists would be turned off by dead bodies sitting in the middle of the whole thing…”

“They won’t be in the middle. I was planning to have the bodies interred in the basement…”

“Even that is a turn-off. Why not ditch the ‘makhbarah’ stuff and go for something more attractive? I suggest that you fill the basement with slot machines and then see how the tourists swarm to the place!”

“Slot machines instead of Mumtaz? I don’t know…”

“And even the name ‘Mumtaz’ is worrying. It won’t catch on. The ‘Mum’ in it would remind people of Egyptian Mummies. Nah… A bad connection. Let us see. Why not call it the ‘Taz Mahal’? That should click! Anything that rhymes with jazz should click, especially if we can make a good jingle and put it on the radio and TV all over the western world!”

So Taz Mahal it became. But subsequently, as semi-literates ignored the dot under the ‘Ja’ in the Hindi spelling of Taz, it got more popularly known as the ‘Taj Mahal’.

“And where are you going to put this Taj Mahal?” Pondy was not quite done with it yet.

“First, you must understand. I am having this round dome on top, built on a large square building, which itself is on an extra-large square pedestal. The square-ness of the pedestal is highlighted by four minarets springing up at the four corners, also made of white marble! And this whole monument I can embed in a moghul garden, enhancing the square design by the symmetry in layout of the plants and the fountains… You will be able to see the monument in front, as well as its reflection in the pool below!”

“Yes, terrific! But where is this going to be?”

“I was thinking of building this in Agra. My old man is building a whole city nearby – Fatehpur Sikri – so why not build this near that city, and the benefit from the tourists staying at Fatehpur Sikri will be enormous!”

“Yes and no! Yes, the benefit would be enormous to the nearby city, but the city also should have the proper infrastructure. And Agra and Fatehpur Sikri suck!

Nah… That will not do at all. I suggest Las Vegas. Or Atlantic City. Or, if you want to stick to the east, how about Macau? These are all tourist destinations, man! You cannot buck the trend! Go along! If the Mountain does not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the Mountain! Yes, your idea is great. Just put some slot machines in the basement and relocate the monument in Las Vegas! Then you will see how the money comes rolling in!”

And so the Taj Mahal would have been built at Las Vegas, with slot machines in the basement, if only the constraints of time had not prevented Shah Jahan from getting the excellent advice of IIT alumni!

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