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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Heritage-Double standards and snobism

Our double standards on heritage.

We are a nation of individuals with collective indifference and selective amnesia.
Its manifestation is in almost all domains of life. Here I would like to dwell upon two such episodes one a cunning divorce and the other a confused love affair with the past especially with regard to certain structures.

Cunning divorce- the result of collective indifference and selective amnesia.

Recently I was shown the photos taken of the ancient sculptures, some pertaining to 2nd Century B.C and some pertaining 4th, 5th and 6th century A.D kept in pathetic condition in  the museum at Chennai. I went in, saw them and came out drenched in sweat and tears.

How much respect we show to our ancient sculptures, especially those of the Vijayanagara, Chola and Chera empires?  There is no air conditioning, no glass casing/covering to protect them from dust and miscreants, too much of bright lights, no CCTV cameras, they were perched precariously on the window sill like small strips of jutting walls of pillars and held tight by rusted nails holding rustic clamps, surrounded by electric vibrations and extreme noise from old wall mounted fans. See picture below.

Then there was a very ancient stone supposed to contain  some ancient script of Grantha which was exposed to miscreants to bleed them with engraving of all their love messages with nails on these old harmless stones [ ridiculously in an age of SMS and Twitter on android mobile sets]

Then as we moved on to the section with massive skeletons of dinosaur and elephants we encounter  so much of dust and dirt that makes us wonder whether it is the skeleton of elephant or skeleton with elephant’s skin because the dirt gives a grayish coating.

See the two photos below

Confused love affair with the past-the result of collective indifference and selective amnesia.

Whereas the white colored wonderfully maintained Victoria Museum in Calcutta stands testimony to our greater love for our colonial bosses than our ancient kings who incidentally gave us some of the world’s greatest architectural splendors and sculptures whereas the Victorian architecture is said to be a bad imitation and poor attempt to mix styles  read here

There is always lot of politics behind architecture

There is in India a group of neo snobs who are very fond of publicizing more about protecting mostly British era constructions of the Victorian era, imperial architecture  as a great heritage. There is nothing wrong in anyone having any love affair with anything as long as it does not hurt others or cause damage to others or impede overall progress and development.

Where is justice? Or what is justice when it comes to land in India.

Is any political party serious in addressing these two issues in India.

1.     The status now.

If you have encroached on public property, especially roads, government lands, lands owned by public sector institutions etc. Then, if they [the rightful owners of these lands] require you to move away, to widen roads or build their own facility, you can approach a lawyer and get a stay. It is as simple as that.

What needs to be done?

Actually the governments must be empowered and the courts must ask the encroachers and unlawful occupants, hitherto, to pay a few lakhs or crores as unauthorized occupation charges as per present market value for the past 20 years or asked to vacate within one month.

Those who aid and abet this crime.

Will the lawyers who ask for a stay and the judges who allow it will they accept the same justice if people illegally occupied their own premises [their properties, courts etc]?

2.     The status now.

Greater injustice befalls on those who [either individuals/institutions/corporate houses] happen to own any old building notably of the 17th or 18th century British architecture. There are some buildings, especially those that have been in very dilapidated conditions in prime locations with high population and intense activity, have become, naturally old, unusable, and have been declared as unsafe to occupy and hence remain unoccupied and therefore the only sensible option left would be to demolish them and allow new construction in those places.

The culprits

But what happens is some vested interest groups/outfits which have been using/occupying those premises either with or without paying rent, influence the media and write saying these buildings are heritage buildings and follow it up with a litigation where by the court instructs the owners, even if it involves spending a few lakhs or crores by the owners, to ensure to protect those unoccupied dilapidated buildings of the colonial architects.

Those who aid and abet this crime.

What justice is this for the courts to ask the owners to spend a few lakhs and crores and protect them? Is it not the duty of the courts to ask the litigants to do that? Or shouldn’t the courts ask the government to do that after paying proportionate compensation to the owners of the property? Or shouldn’t it be the onus of the judges/ groups/ lobbies/ media houses that are so keen on protecting the great heritage to bear the expenses for maintaining such structures for which they shout their lungs out and write reams of praise?

Mind you that none of these buildings on which various heritage snobs    have filed cases find a place, even in tentative lists of world heritage. You may verify here

Would these heritage loving lobbies pay for damages that these    constructions may cause even in the event of a low intensity earth quake?

Social and economic imperatives

Heritage and Metro rail

Here is the script of what my daughter spoke in the inter school oratorical competition for Madras Week celebration two years back held at PSBB K.K. Nagar and she got the first prize. The Topic given was

Heritage and Metro rail

Heritage as a terminology has acquired a wide range of connotations. So, at first we need to clearly define what we mean by heritage?

In general we all have scant respect combined with varying degrees of ignorance and indifference towards many really culturally, socially, environmentally and scientifically significant aspects, value systems and facets of heritage and the symbols that represent such heritage.

Heritage in brief includes and involves the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture.  Most importantly, it is the range of contemporary activities, meanings, value systems and behaviors that they impact.
However, going by the topic it is obvious that we are talking about a sudden new found concern and care for some old, dilapidated, mostly unused or unusable or misused constructions mostly built in the past few decades at the maximum a century ago. Constructions mostly made of combinations of brick, lime stone, clay etc. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, wherein, such old buildings are used for some meaningful activities and they do stand as symbols of some activity. Let me stress they are symbols and not the intrinsically significant part of such activity.
Constructions which were older than a century and a half are mostly of solid rocks, stones and hence do not get jolted or spoiled even when they get submerged under water like the structures at Mahapalipuram.

This sudden concern is purely due to some vested interests, ideological affinities, political expediency and purely personal and material gains.

We all must approach with sanity  anything based on facts, inevitable situational requirements, the relative changes and adjustments that we have to make towards such requirements and in some cases even a hard decision or a sacrifice if one may use such big words.

The facts are:-

1] Everything has an expiry date, including our life.

2] Infrastructural development is inevitable if we are to promote economy, trade and enable movement of goods and transportation of a constantly growing population.

3] If we remain as luddites [those opposing change] then we will remain an economically backward state/country.

4] What could we do if these buildings, mostly those built of brick, lime stone and clay and existing in dilapidated conditions get damaged or come crushing to the ground due to earth quake, severe cyclonic storm, sudden floods, heavy rainfall etc or get destroyed in some fire.

5] In most cases the activities that are taking place can be easily relocated elsewhere in the interest of growth of economy.

We must all remember one thing that the only thing that does not change is change and everything else is subject to change.

Heritage has very little to do with the past, but is actually more about how we conceptualize the future. 

Objects of heritage are the things we pay attention to because they’re still meaningful to us, not always because they tell great stories about the past but because we use them to tell stories about ourselves. 

Practices of heritage are customs and habits which, although intangible, also inform who we are as groups, and help to create our shared social memory.

We use objects of heritage (monuments, buildings, sites, landscapes) and practices of heritage (languages, music, community celebrations) to shape our ideas about who we are as nations, communities, and individuals. What we define as ‘heritage’ is constantly changing in the light of the present as we look to the past to imagine our future.
So in the interest of future and our own progress we must be willing to exchange a few symbols of heritage in the form of some old buildings.
We read in history books that how passive spectators we were when all our rich cultural heritages were plundered by invaders. We ourselves have made lots of changes to our value systems, and symbols of heritage for various reasons.
If time permits I can go into the relative importance and even inevitability of metro and mono rails……2013

Photos by B.Srividya

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