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The Unfulfilled Wish of Stephen Hawking: Visiting the Taj Mahal

Hawking was the reason why many of our historic monuments were turned disabled friendly.

Adrija Bose | CNN-News18

Updated:March 14, 2018, 11:10 PM IST
The Unfulfilled Wish of Stephen Hawking: Visiting the Taj Mahal
Image: Reuters
About seventeen years ago, Stephen Hawking had come to India. The world-renowned physicist wanted to visit the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Jantar Mantar, Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal. In fact, Hawking was so excited to see India, he wrote to Javed Abidi, who was then the Honorary Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.).

When the letter was passed to the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.), the officials there were aghast to hear that the NCPEDP was even suggesting modifications to a historical monument. One of the officials said that not a single brick can be touched.

Hawking came to India, saw the Qutub Minar and Jantar Mantar, where temporary ramps had then been placed. But he left without seeing the Taj Mahal.

Arguably, the most famous physicist died early Wednesday at his home in England at the age of 76.

That one wish remained unfulfilled.

However, Hawking was the reason why many of our historic monuments later were turned disabled friendly. And that includes the Taj Mahal.

Hawking’s desire to see the monuments had put the officials in a tizzy. The ASI was pushed to making the iconic structures accessible to the disabled, almost overnight. While this was something that the disabled in the country had been demanding for long—things only rushed with Hawking’s visit.

Soon after Hawking’s visit, the then Tourism Minister, Ananth Kumar announced grand plans to make all World Heritage Sites in India, including the Taj Mahal, accessible.

Diagnosed with ALS in 1963 at the age of 21, Hawking thought he’d have only two more years to live. When the disease didn’t progress that fast, the physicist is reported to have said, “I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research.”

He began to use crutches in the 1960s, but long fought the use of a wheelchair. He finally had to relent.

It was only in 2016, 15 years after Hawking’s visit, that a joint initiative by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) and the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) decided to upgrade 50 prominent monuments, and make them accessible to the disabled.

While Taj Mahal was already on the list, the plan was to include disabled-friendly toilets, Braille signages, tactile floors or pathways, railings and ramps.

Perhaps, without Hawking, the authorities wouldn’t have bent backwards to get things in place. Perhaps, without Hawking, the wishes of many would remain unfulfilled.
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