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What the Taj Mahal and Apple Have in Common

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tajpanoranicview1Earlier this morning, along with Matt Mullenweg, I decided to visit the Taj Mahal, India’s heritage site and truly a wonder of our world. I hadn’t been to see it in almost three decades; scenes from “Slumdog Millionaire” admittedly helped me take the four-hour car ride down to Agra from New Dehli.

We spent hours visiting the monument, which is at its very core a symbol of a man’s love for his wife, learning very detailed historical information from our able guide. I was both spellbound and speechless. [digg=]

As a child, I remember experiencing the Taj with wonder and amazement. As an adult, I appreciate the pain and patience of the artisans who built it some 350-odd years ago. As a kid I was awestruck by the notion of an empress’s mausoleum; the grown-up version of me was blown away by its beauty.

As I walked across the cool marble, the afternoon sun baking overhead and an almost-dry River Yamuna in the background, I summed up what I was feeling in a tweet: “Just came out of Taj. Intense. Profound. Symmetry. Dedication. Passion. Love. Humbling. Perfection.” (Follow me around Delhi on Twitter.)

Ironically, those are some of the same adjectives I’ve used to describe Apple (s aapl) and its products. I don’t necessarily want to equate the majestic Taj with mere machines, but they are undeniably similar.

For instance, at the Taj we saw intricate flowers and fauna carved into marble and filled with coral, onyx and jade. The three-dimensional nature of these patterns were repeated thousands of time without a blemish.

The geometrical symmetry of the complex extends from one corner to another. Even the shadow reflected in the pool in front of the Taj is perfectly symmetrical with the building.

Emperor Shah Jahan had a perfect replica of a mosque created to give balance to the whole complex. The four minarets lean out just ever so slightly so that in the unlikely event that they do fall, they won’t damage the main building. Now that is some attention to detail.

The Taj is a collection of small perfections that add up to one large perfection, a treasure that cannot adequately be captured by words, photos, eyes, or even the human brain. It was one man’s vision, brought to life by thousands of others who worked tirelessly over a period spanning more than 20 years. There will be nothing like it ever again.

If you had to pick a modern, and technology-specific, analogy of this high ideal, it would be Apple. Like the Taj, where the architects used a double dome to cool the tomb, and elegant air ducts to circulate the cooling air throughout the entire building, the company has combined form, function and art to come up with perfection.

Steve Jobs and thousands of Apple staff have spent more than 25 years trying to create machines that pay similar attention to minor things, sometimes seemingly useless ones. The ability to create Wi-Fi networks comes to mind, as does the ability to zoom in to better view documents. The aluminum unibody of the MacBook Air seems like little more than a beautiful design feature until you realize it’s used to cool the entire machine — just like the double domes and air ducts of the Taj.

And now, sitting in a car on a clogged highway on our way back to New Dehli, with Matt dozing off beside me, I’m thinking about how rushed we all are, and how being so rushed inhibits our ability to appreciate the opportunities we have to create small perfections. Our short-term focus is a sad reflection on society, one that has made it too easy to forget about the human ability to create something that can last generations.

I’m so glad I saw the Taj today.

For more pictures of my trip to the Taj, please visit my personal blog.

43 Responses to “What the Taj Mahal and Apple Have in Common”

  1. The analogies you’ve written about are great. Apple’s attention to detail makes their products so much better than the competition. The awe you feel while you are in the Taj Mahal and while using an Apple product are comparable. The experience is what sets apart mediocre from excellent.

  2. @Cindy

    This falls under Tech as well.

    Architecture in the eyes of a Technologist :-)

    The higher order bit is that there is only one Taj Mahal and only one Apple and both have a great brand value attached.

    The lesson for the entrepreneur is that creating Value for a Brand is not easy and takes time and immense hardwork

  3. Om,
    Definitely an interesting thought. However, I can see you have got too much carried away with your “love” for Apple products. Do you recall how much did you have to pay for the ticket to see the Taj? It was just a few pennies. What makes the comparison of the perfect Taj and the “perfect” Apple so imperfect is that the vision of the Taj came from the heart, while the Apple products are for a specific customer segment who are willing to pay a premium. Would you compare BMW or Ferrari to a Taj? These companies also build perfect products with lot of attention to small perfections. Bose builds “perfect” music systems. I can go on…

    The point is you can never compare any of these products with Taj because the latter is on a different plane and dimension altogether.

  4. It is the same balance or symmetry that made Indian or western classical music to pass the test of time. Tagore puts it nicely – ‘ Our life is like playing violin in an orchestra, and trying to match our tune with that of the Universe.’ Great things happen when we get it right. World is full of excellence where an individual or a team got the tune right.

  5. @Cindy,

    Thanks for the comment but I respectfully disagree. Had it not been appropriate I wouldn’t have published it either.

    Actually if you look at @Varun’s comment, you understand exactly why I really did post this article.

    Hopefully you did enjoy it!

  6. ol' yeller

    would love to see the taj.

    is it *open* to all? ;-)

    apple makes throw-away, over-priced, very proprietary phones, music players and computers. a blip in our modern consumerist world.

  7. Great to know that you enjoyed the Taj.

    Its so interesting when you compare computer design with the design of the monument.

    Hardly do we find time to appreciate the past .

    In a quest for a better future . we are just quickly going thru the present and go ahead . Who has time for the past ?

    Post like these make me think .. is the rush really worth it ?

  8. Sorry, but this reads like your personal blog, so that’s really where it should be. More hard news and less personal news, Om. We like you, but we like reading about tech more than you.

  9. Yet I enjoy the taste of Taj.I enjoy the beauty already of Apple Mac Air,I confess that the design is mixx of beauty and passion,I agree that it is worth of Dying to get the gadget,I commit that I am ready to keep my apple be with me till the next new design Sold to public .This is from me.Apple mac “fans-Live”

  10. Taj is marvelous. I’m sure the guide accompanied would have described in detail. Did you also notice the zig-zag pattern on those four pillars surrounding the monument? Did you visit another structure that is getting ready in Agra for decades now,the Radhaswami temple – The intricacies of the sculpting there is incredible – I’ve never seen such details on marble sculpting as yet.

  11. Wow, glad you saw it. I saw it a few years ago and I was also glad I did. I remember asking some colleagues who had seen it if it was “worth it.” I am typically turned off of touristy things like safaris and Eiffel Towers, but the Taj Mahal is in another category all together. Mashallah.


  12. People who visited the Taj says, its worth all the trouble of getting there. All worries, tiredness and every other thing becomes void upon reaching and experiencing the environment of the Taj. I trust these people are telling the truth.

  13. I haven’t seen the TAJ yet but have a strong desire to visit TAJ soon.I can’t accept your word.TAJ IS TAJ.After all it’s among the world top most 7 amazement.Yeah may be APPLE is a big brand name in communication world but there are many more good brands are competing with APPLE but in case of TAJMAHAL….NO MATCH.

  14. @Yuvamani,

    As you correctly pointed out that this finger-chopping stuff is an urban legend. what the emperor did was give the artists a lot of money and in exchange got a promise from them not to use their skills for another building. in the modern times companies do that to their departing employees and offer them non-compete agreements in exchange for a lot of money.

    of course, loyalty means a whole different thing these days :-)

  15. @Om
    Extremely well written article. Glad you were able to bring the Taj & Apple together, comparing the attention to detail of 17th century artisans to the 21st century designers working @ Apple. “The Taj is a collection of small perfections that add up to one large perfection.” This article is a lot like that :-)


  16. Om, I’m so glad you made it back to the Taj. I’ve never been there, but I have had the privilege of visiting a few other famous examples of aged but ageless architecture. There’s a reverence that settles over me when I am in such places.

    Speaking of Apple, I dropped my MacBook the other day. It fell pretty hard but there’s no damage besides a little ding. Truly magnificent workmanship. Great comparison.

  17. According to an (untrue) urban legend, After the Taj was constructed, The architects hands were cut off so that he could never build something like this again.

    Steve Jobs sure wishes he could have done something like that to that former ipod / iphone head and the pre/webos thing never happened.

  18. I was there a month ago. I thought it was incredible. In fact that entire day was mind-blowing: the poverty of the trip there from Delhi, the Oberoi where I had lunch, with its faux-Euro pretensions, and the Taj, which is the quintessence of everything I love about India. Take care and give my love to Matt.