Wednesday , 19 September 2018

Home » FOCUS » Destroying our heritage: Why don’t Indians care?

Destroying our heritage: Why don’t Indians care?

June 25, 2018 8:18 am Category: FOCUS, SLIDER NEWS A+ / A-

Reports suggest that there were 823 heritage structures still standing in Bengaluru in 1985.

Indian GateNEW DELHI: Delhi woke to some good news last week. The city’s stately, two-storeyed Town Hall of 1863 vintage was dying a slow death, due to callous use by municipal officials from Independence up to 2009. Its museum and
library too must be in their last throes, if rodents, seepage, white ants and pigeons have left any book
or artifact intact at all. Still, and after nine more years of dithering, it’s final — the august building
will soon be leased out to bidders for a heritage hotel.

One dismaying thought persists. What if the government “does an Air India” on the Town Hall by retaining
a stranglehold through the hobby interior designer-wife of an official or someone else it wants
to “favour” with a paid consultancy? Instead of leaving it to professional architects endowed with
sense and sensibility — two qualities that no demolition-happy Indian government at any level —
national, state or local — has ever displayed about heritage? Don’t buy my cynicism. Drop in on any government
office housed in an old building anywhere in the country.

Like the stately Jaisalmer House in New Delhi, where officials of a ministry huddle in tacky Formica cubicles,
inside what used to be expansive living quarters. Encircling them like the grim chorus of a
Greek tragedy are steel almirahs; above them, a bewildering jungle of electric wires on which colonies of
pigeons roost, frequently raining droppings and feathers down upon classified documents. Pan-chewers
have left trademark splatter along the wide corridors that encircle an inner courtyard. (So great is
the resemblance to a Dickensian warehouse that the ministry recently invited tenders from pest control
companies to decimate the ancient building’s other unwelcome residents: swarms of rats.)

Or check out the debate and the mystical secrecy surrounding the design of an undoubtedly-needed war memorial
at India Gate. The question on whether the memorial will mark the grand vistas and perfect symmetry
of the India Gate hexagon and Rajpath remains unanswered. Or visit the National Museum, which houses
some of India’s greatest and most awe-inspiring antiquities but also the surliest and most ignorant
front office staff, who make it obvious just how much they hate being bothered by visitors.

“The National Museum is a treasure house of wondrous pieces. Why, then, do I feel such reluctance and depression
when I go there?” asks Dastkar chairperson Laila Tyabji. The country’s top crafts activist
also holds government ministries with “no eye for its contents, potential or the most basic aesthetics”
responsible for its sorry state. “You pass a marvellous, medieval Vishnu used as a dumping ground for backpacks
! On your right is a that stunning, towering rath, obscured in a dusty, plexiglass, kennel-
like structure,” Ms Tyabji fumes. She also points to an astounding omission on the museum’s website —
that there’s no mention of the American architect who was awarded the Padma Bhushan for designing the
magnificent building.

To the rest of the country, Delhi is spoilt, Delhi is privileged. And there is some truth to that
grumble. Delhi, at least, has plenty of heritage warriors who put frequent and welcome spokes into
government wheels the minute they sense impending doom for old monuments. But whether in the capital or
elsewhere in India, and depending on the nationality and/or religion of the long-gone patron-builder of
a given monument, the chief reasons for neglect are either populist politics or profits.

Earlier this year, dismayed Kolkatans watched the Kenilworth Hotel — or the Purdy Mansion — being
brought down. One of Kolkata’s oldest establishments of the British colonial era, the Kenilworth’s
spacious suites were legendary and it remained the favourite watering hole of intellectuals and writers
for generations. In 2009, the hotel was reportedly listed in the Grade IIA category on the Kolkata
Municipal Corporation’s list of heritage buildings. But earlier this year, it was stealthily scaled
down to Grade III, that is, the category of old buildings that are allowed to fall. A 35-storey
residential behemoth will now arise on the shards of invaluable history.

Reports suggest that there were 823 heritage structures still standing in Bengaluru in 1985. Since
then, 469 of them, including the Murphy Town Library (for an “Indira Canteen”) and more recently,
Lalbagh’s Krumbiegel Hall have been turned into rubble and venues for restaurants, malls and high-end
apartments. The Moore Market was charred in a fire and many other Chennai landmarks were demolished.
Still, the heritage-rich southern city scores some points for recently announcing its willingness to
restore some of the most remarkable British-era college buildings.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same. Days after the Delhi Town Hall announcement
came another, which brought all hopes of reviving both aesthetics and Delhi’s poisonous air crashing to
earth again. All illegal street-side stalls, additional floors and makeshift parking lots at some busy
Delhi markets (where every inch of pavement space is occupied by hawkers and vehicles) are going to be
“regularised”. The municipality is obviously unconcerned by small piffles like air pollution, fire
escapes and the space to walk for the city’s residents. Remember: both the Lok Sabha and Assembly
elections are up in the next two years. What better time for a few sops?

If there are two things that are definitely NOT on the curriculum of either politicians’ nurseries or
the celebrated IAS training institute in Mussoorie, they are city planning and the art of conserving
ancient architecture, whether built by the “good guys” or “bad eggs”.

What one architect-writer famously described as Gujarati-Gothic and Punjabi Baroque dominate our city
landscapes today. Curlicews and turrets, heat-producing construction material and reflector glass
highly unsuited to tropical climates are what we will leave behind. For future generations to gasp at
and wonder — is this the same nation and the same people that built Ajanta? Ellora? The Taj Mahal? Or
even the iconic Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, which even though of 1970s’ vintage and
approved by a former PM-patron herself, was not spared the bulldozers’ either?

Destroying our heritage: Why don’t Indians care? Reviewed by on . Reports suggest that there were 823 heritage structures still standing in Bengaluru in 1985. NEW DELHI: Delhi woke to some good news last week. The city’s state Reports suggest that there were 823 heritage structures still standing in Bengaluru in 1985. NEW DELHI: Delhi woke to some good news last week. The city’s state Rating: 0
scroll to top
Powered by TROTTYZONE.