Alison McQueen


Travels with my mother (Part 2)

The Taj Mahal really is a sight to behold. It also has very little seating, which is not something I had taken into account. Besides, I was too busy being overwhelmed by its beauty and feeling my throat close. Such a monument to love, and what a love that must have been. Ah, well. We can’t all be the favourite wife of a mogul. The Taj Mahal holds a certain melancholy about it, a streak of tragedy, and there is something quite awkward about seeing the tourists lining up to replicate the Princess Diana photograph, hogging one of the few benches.

Outside the monument, the assault by hawkers is brutal. My mother is tired. She also took a tumble a short time ago when she misjudged a stone she was planning to sit on. I was standing right next to her when it happened but I hadn’t anticipated her move, and she hissed me away when I tried to check her over and told me not to make a fuss while she blushed scarlet beneath brown skin. Nobody else had noticed and that’s the way she intended to keep it. But still. Must have hurt, and I wished she had said that she needed to sit down rather than going off-piste like that, because now she’s gone and hurt herself and I feel really bad.

It’s all very well to have a crusading spirit of adventure as you hurtle into your eighties, but my mum can be pretty belligerent and it’s no tea party trying to make sure that she stays in one piece. She can get downright difficult sometimes too, particularly when she’s tired, which she will also never admit to. I’ve told here there’s no shame in granny naps. I actually love a good granny nap myself. We almost came to blows in an Indian airport once, when she (tired) insisted upon ‘helping’ with the luggage and promptly rammed a fully-loaded trolley right over my bare foot.

The hawkers outside the Taj Mahal are possibly the worst I’ve ever had to deal with, and I’ve dealt with a lot. They drive you mad, and they don’t care. That’s the whole point. They’ll wear you down until you part with some money, at which point the floodgates will open and you’ll be lucky to escape with your shirt. After the incident with the mother, I was in no mood for any of it, my only concern being where the bus had mysteriously disappeared to and whether she had done herself any serious damage. The hawkers did not take this well. Before I knew it, I had two or three men jabbing cheap souvenirs at me and shouting in my face, one of whom was getting way too aggressive for my liking.

Never in my life have I been more relieved to find us on the receiving end of a huge American tourist wearing a Hawaiian shirt with an enormous camera swinging from his neck. This man saw what was happening, came barging over, bellowed at the hawkers “what part of no don’t you people understand?” and got us out of there. It didn’t escape my notice that the hawkers had no intention of starting an argument with a man, but that us women had been seen as easy prey. Make no mistake. This is a country where female travelers have to be very careful, no matter what age they are, and not once in well over ten years have I ever had cause to revise that opinion.