Agra gets a hurried makeover to sweep Trumps off their feet

Kusum Tewari

AGRA: The tryst will last just a couple of hours, but Agra is going for a hurried beauty therapy. With barely 48 hours left for the rendezvous, the likely route of US President
Donald Trump and first lady Melania to
Taj Mahal is getting a facelift.

Sewers are being cleaned. Roads have been widened and ornate flower pots placed on dividers. A rusty overbridge of the colonial era was being spray-painted metallic silver grey on Friday evening. Pavement encroachments have been removed and electric poles installed with tricolour LED lights. An army of municipal workers has been nabbing stray cattle and sending them to gaushalas. The WhatsApp joke doing the rounds is that Trump should visit Agra more often, just to breathe life and activity into the somnolent civic authorities.

This will be Agra’s third dalliance with a US president.
Dwight Eisenhower (1959) and
Bill Clinton (2000) too were charmed by the Taj, generally acknowledged as the world’s greatest monument of love.

This is Trump’s time. The city is teeming with monster banners welcoming the US president and the first lady. There are also direct proclamations to the US president’s “yaarana” with PM
Narendra Modi. One of them featuring the two says, “Do mahaan desh, ek bemisaal dosti (Two great nations, one matchless friendship).” Another one goes, “Bhagwan Shri Ram ki dev bhoomi mein aapka swagat hai”, while a third says, “Heartiest welcome to the land of Lord Krishna.”

Last year, the Ardh Kumbh had turned the walls of Allahabad into an open-air art gallery. Parts of Agra now have the same feel. Hundreds of cultural, religious and modern motifs have been painted on boundary walls. One of them shows the US president in a red tie and black jacket, with the words Atithi devo bhava. Closer to Taj Mahal, trees have been washed, their barks painted in white and brown.

As in Delhi’s Connaught Place during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, signboards of hundreds of shops on the scheduled route now sport a uniform white-and-brown look. “Eight days ago, they took away the old signboards at night and replaced them with new ones a few days later. The shutters in all the shops have been painted cream and the steps bright yellow,” says Iqbal Khan of Mesco Tailor. His shop is located close to Kheria air base, where Trump will land on Monday. Stationery shop owner Charanjit Singh admits that Agra’s state of cleanliness has improved due to Trump’s visit. “His visit has resulted in a series of developmental activities,” he said.

On Monday, about 25,000 school students will line up on either side of the road and wave flags. At least 3,800 artists from UP’s different regions will perform folk dances like Rasiya, Saira and Dhubiya. Over 3,000 cops have been pressed into action for security. All leave has been cancelled till February 26.

Kulwinder Kaur, who runs a stationery mart, is also impressed by the positive changes that the US president’s impending visit have brought to the city. About 500 kg silt has been taken out of the Yamuna river. About 950 cusecs of water is being released to provide the river with a brimming look and to remove the stench that affected the nearby areas.

But Kaur also has a question. “Why do you have to wait for Trump to clean up the city? We get so many tourists from abroad every day. Don’t they deserve a clean river and a clean city?” It is a question that the UP state government and local civic authorities can best answer.

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