In Agra, our group descended the stairs into the marble shop where ten men sat on the floor before us. We seated ourselves on the long bench to observe their craft. Sam, the shopkeeper and guide, walked us through the making of the intricate marble tabletops, boxes, and plates inlaid with semi-precious stones. This same art work adorns the Taj Mahal.
We watched transfixed as the younger men — often sons of the older men — sanded ant-sized pieces of malachite, turquoise, onyx, abalone, cornelian, lapis, jade, mother of pearl and coral into the correct shapes. The master craftsman chiseled out the marble into which these minuscule pieces would be glued in place to create the ornate designs.
Naively, we didn’t realize the sales process had begun.