Pardon us for asking: does it matter if the Taj Mahal does or does not make it to the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World? And pardon us for also asking: is the ongoing television and newspaper campaign, urging Indians to vote by SMS, for the Taj any more than an attempt by cellphone companies to keep the cash-registers klink-klink?
For starters, it is not the UNESCO or some independent audit body doing the ranking. It’s a privately funded Switzerland-based organisation called New Open World Corporation, set up by a film maker called Stephen Weber; although a gang led by UNESCO’s former chief Federico Mayor drew up the shortlist of 21.
The organisation or the poll has “no scientific or official stature“, as Egypt has rightly said, while laughing that the Pyramids have to contest for a place.
Maybe, the demands of modern media and marketing require the original list of the seven wonders—made by Herodotus and Callimachus nearly 2,000 years ago—to be updated. Maybe, the seven modern wonders drawn up by the American Society of Civil Engineers look a little ancient, now.
Maybe, also, in tune with the times, the new list should be made to seem more democratic, user-generated, participatory. Therefore, anybody equipped with a cell phone or an internet connection—but who may or may not have visited Shah Jahan‘s love note in marble to his wife Mumtaz—can feel he or she has had a role.
If Taj gets in, it will be a collective triumph. If Taj doesn’t get in, the guilt will be collective, too. In the age of GSM and CDMA, WiFi and WLL, you can exult or sulk at your own discretion. (Conditions Apply)
But here’s the truth which will only please the VHP-Bajrang Dal wallahs who suspect there is a temple underneath the mausoleum: The Taj is not on the list of the seven ancient wonders or the seven modern wonders or the seven medieval wonders.
It’s only there on the list of the seven tourist wonders, which too was drawn up by a private body. And yes, it’s on the Word Heritage List of UNESCO.
You can always ask the question if the Taj deserves to be there on the list of the Seven New Wonders in the first place. And the truth can sometimes be a bitter cliche. Sure, it’s eye-catching. Sure, it’s the only immediately recognisable landmark if somebody were to ask you, “Where’s India?” But a new wonder?
The other question to ask is if we should be falling into the insular trap of campaigning for the Taj and the Taj alone by shutting our eyes to all the wonders that exist around us. Manmohan Singh isn’t telling us to do so, although Brazil’s President Lula de Silva used a radio address to tell people how to vote for Rio’s Christ the Redeemer.
The government isn’t setting up free internet terminals for us to cast an online vote although Peru’s government has set up computer parlours to enable people to vote for the ancient city of Machu Picchu.
The only people urging you to click “Send” are doe-eyed television co-anchors who look lovingly at each other and ask “Have you voted for the Taj?” and newspaper ads urging to join the crowd by sending an SMS to 4567.
“Daav par hain Bharat ka samman
Kijiye Taj ke liye matadaan”
“Dainik Bhaskar urges you to vote for the Taj.
Because, just your admiration won’t do”
All this would be perfectly all right if only the newspapers and television channels would reveal “that the cost to send an SMS is Rs. 3 for all the following operators Prepaid and Postpaid: Airtel, Hutch, Spice, Tata Tele, Reliance Info, Reliance GSM, BPL. Exceptions: Rs. 1: MTNL Prepaid and Postpaid, BSNL Prepaid; Rs. 0.8: BSNL Postpaid.”
And all this would be perfectly all right if only the cellphone companies and media houses would also reveal that they get a portion of the money that is charged for each SMS sent to the “short code” 4567.
Fortunately, the body which is conducting the poll comes clean on its website.
Yes. We have, in partnership with our technical telephone partners, established the world’s first global premium voting platform. A very small portion of the revenue from each call or SMS is goes to New7Wonders and will help to fund the entire project.
On the other hand, what is essentially a private campaign is being painted as a show of national identity. As if we are all in this together. If we are, if this is about India, why cannot the cell phone companies charge us nothing for the votes they want us to send?
Because it’s about the money, Mani. One news report said last week that the Taj was short by 30 crore votes. Imagine the “small portion of the revenue” likely to accrue to the cell phone companies if even a portion of that shortfall were to be met.
Maybe three bucks isn’t much for you, but for everybody?
Maybe a new wonder ranking for the Taj will get more tourists. But does the Taj need the publicity when there are hundreds of great spots crying for attention?
Maybe, the contest will further kindle interest in history, culture and architecure. But if the Taj is the first (sometimes only) stop on every tourist’s itinerary without it being on any great list, does it need a certificate from Lisbon this Saturday?
So to the question “Who gives a f*** if Taj Mahal makes it or not?” there can be only one answer: the cell cos.