Today, a monument speaks to us. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
It's a warm day. Our hired
car threads along the ever-filled two-lane road. We
pass three camels lurching under great loads of
straw. We see an elephant moving grain sacks with
his trunk. We honk at a 3-wheeled taxi. Passengers
sit on its roof and hang from its sides. We make
the unforgettable 4½-hour, 120-mile
pilgrimage from New Delhi to Agra.
Another engineer and I are going to see the Taj
Mahal. Right now, I don't care if I ever get there.
The trip is hypnotic. But we do get there, and we
enter the main portal.
And there it is! It gleams a third of a mile away
-- at the other end of the long reflecting pool. We
leave the roiling outer world of India and enter an
eerie inner space.
The Taj Mahal is a tomb. In 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died
in childbirth. She'd been the Shah's consort.
They'd been more than man and woman in any usual
sense. They'd made a connection two people are
seldom privileged to make. Her loss was
How do you cope with such grief? If you can't find
language to express it, it can destroy you. So the
Shah arrayed the great architects of the Islamic
world. Out of them, one rose like cream. He was
Ustad Isa from Persia.
He conceived a monument -- immense but restrained.
Its dome rises 240 feet. The four minarets are 140
feet tall. We all know the Taj is made of white
marble. We've all seen photos. But up close you
find a delicate tracery of semiprecious stone
It is both a jewel and its setting. The gardens,
the red sandstone outer walls, the entry portal,
the great pool -- they all create an artistic
whole. The most telling praise for the Taj comes
from critics who call it "too feminine!" Its design
is a delicate perfection.
Of course it meant exploitation. 20,000 people
worked 22 years to build it. It cost 40 million
rupees. But in the end that gift of serenity has
touched hundreds of millions of us.
The Taj reminds us that technology and art are
inseparable. Both flow from the deepest recesses of
human feeling. Separate what we feel from what we
make, and we'll make a bad world -- a world that
For centuries, the Taj has transmuted the Shah's
love and pain into a glimpse of human glory. One
last look, and we two engineers are back in the
swirling world outside. But that world is changed.
We two builders of external worlds feel it. Of
course, it is really we who are changed -- by what
we have seen.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds