Shanti Mahal for war heroes

A unique private initiative

Shanti Mahal for war heroes

To build a monument of love like the Taj Mahal, one has to be born as emperor Shajahan, that too in the 17th century. Now, almost four centuries later, a retired Petty Officer of the Indian Navy is building a smaller version of the world wonder by coughing up all his earnings to be dedicated to war heroes.

Mr A K B Kumar, presently Fire and Safety Engineer (acting) in Kochi Refineries Ltd, began work on the 50-feet high mini Taj on 18 cents of his ancestral home along the Alappuzha - Ernakulam National Highway in January last year. ‘‘I wanted to build a peace palace to honour those valiant war heroes and those who became martyrs to terrorism,’’ says he.
Kumar says he got the idea after coming face to face with the enemy in Chittagong during the 1971 war with Pakistan. ‘‘I became what I am because of the Navy and my experiences in the force for almost 18 years. I saw the perils and pain of war and understood its futility,’’ Kumar said.

‘‘By making another Taj from my hard-earned money and dedicating it to the forces, I want to send a message of peace to the perpetrators of war as well as the people,’’ he says.

Like the Taj Mahal, Shanti Mahal also has a central dome and eight subordinate domes including ones atop the four minarets. According to Kumar, three of the four minarets represent the Army, Navy and Air Force while the fourth minaret stands for the paramilitary forces. Names of those who lost their lives to terrorism would be inscribed inside. Bricks, rubble, steel, fibre sheets  and most importantly, marble tiles are the main ingredients of the structure designed by Kumar’s US-based architect friend N Radhakrishan.

Kumar, who retired from the Navy as a Junior Commissioned  Officer in 1989 says he also wants to put up a museum and library in the ground floor to showcase the perils and pain of war. ‘‘I strongly feel that the International Court of Justice should effectively function as a body to stop wars and take punitive action against war-mongering nations. That’s one way we can prevent this suffering and bloodshed,’’ says he.

For more than 24 years after leaving the Navy, Kumar has been working as a Fire and Safety Engineer in Kochi Refineries Ltd at Ambalamugal in Kochi. On how he financed his project, the 58-year-old says he sold his property, took a Rs 10 lakh loan and also put in all his earnings.

‘‘I sold 15 cents each of my own property as well as that of my wife which got me about Rs 35 lakh. I also had investments in Indira Vikas Patras and other things. Then there was my own salary earnings from 43 years of Central government service. I did not smoke or drink and did not lead a luxurious life. Even now as a Safety Officer in KRL, I draw about Rs 50,000 a month,’’ says Kumar.

In an age when families and siblings are torn apart by property feuds, Mr Kumar’s decision to divert most of his property and earnings to build a monument for war heroes speaks volumes of his sincerity to the cause.

At first, local people thought the structure coming up in their neighbourhood could be a mosque. Later, many of them were surprised to know that the building resembling the Taj was not a mosque and was not even Kumar’s home, but a memorial.

Family not keen
Kumar reveals that it was tough indeed to make his dream project happen. As expected, his wife Lekha and daughters Veena and Navya were not very keen in the beginning and fell in line only because Kumar was determined.

‘‘Even now, they are not quite happy,’’ he admits. He feels that both his daughters are well-off, the elder one being happily married and the younger one set to marry soon. His elder daughter is a practising lawyer in the High Court while the younger one has done her masters in computer applications. ‘‘They have their jobs which are their greatest assets,’’ says he. Kumar is counting on no less than President Pratibha Patil to throw open his  Shanti Mahal to the public in January 2010.

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