Heritage, in many forms, has always been important to our progress. Heritage is where we come from. It might not be the most positive reminder of the past, or might not be the reminder of the more positive past, but regardless, it’s very real. We can’t pick and choose the good parts of the past and erase the bad; we can only learn from it. Every so often we need reminders of our past, of where we come from, of who we were and what we did. Heritage is that reminder. So it will be for the future generations too. Our today is tomorrow’s heritage and it must be preserved.
A couple of months ago I went for a workshop on preservation of local heritage. One of the exercises was to discuss about the stakeholders of heritage and what influence they have on preserving it. The two major stakeholders we discussed about were Real Estate companies (We lovingly termed them ‘Real Estate Lobby’) and the Public. The participants unanimously agreed that the Real Estate Lobby was a negative influence on heritage. That this lobby would tear down heritage structures for ‘development’ was a given. What surprised me though was the other unanimous belief that this lobby had the most power in this regard, even more than the Government. It’s not far from the truth right?
I mentioned this to my father after the workshop. He is after all a part of the ‘Real Estate Lobby’ and I was curious about his reaction. The only thing he said was that developers build according to what the market wants. All the time public say they want a sea-facing apartment, or a unit on the top-most floor, or a bungalow on the highest point of the city with the view of the city-scape, or an infinity pool. Developers don’t build according to their fancy; they build according to what the Public wants. And the houses with this kind of aesthetic appeal are the ones that sell first and at the highest rate. Yes, the Real Estate Lobby is a problem. But the market is as much a part of the problem as the Lobby. Think about it- if the public stopped buying houses of a certain type, real estate companies would stop constructing it.
Back in the workshop, when we got to discussing about the Public as a crucial stakeholder, many of us believed that majority of the public didn’t care about heritage. The public doesn’t care about maintaining heritage. A lot of reasons for this were mentioned but again we were only a minority speculating about the majority. I still don’t know for sure why most people don’t care about heritage. Will they sign an online petition to save a heritage structure like Chowmahalla Palace from being bulldozed? – Yes, they would. But would they demand the Government to repair Paigah Tombs? – I doubt it.
Having said that, I want to give credit where credit is due. Thank god for the Aga Khan Foundation! The restoration work that they’ve taken up all across India is outstanding. If you haven’t been to the Qutub Shahi Tombs lately, check it out as it’s in the middle of repair work. And visit again next year to see the difference. In just one year I’ve seen a significant facelift. It’s almost as if a house is being whitewashed and put in order to welcome a new bride. Also, please note the difference between the financial capacity and efficiency of a private organisation (Aga Khan Foundation) and a Government organization (ASI). And of course, the photography community. They are the only ones you will find waiting at the gate for a place to open, and they are the ones who spend the most time in one place.
And anyway, imagine how boring it would be if a city only had contemporary buildings. If every generation destroyed it’s previous generation’s heritage. All buildings would have the same façade. Where would the character come from? It would be like a person who could talk only about one topic. The thing about heritage is that it’s a teacher and it outlives us. Heritage structures aren’t the sights we see; we are the sights the structures see. We are the stories the structures preserve for the future generation.