Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Conserving Heritage, a Tribute to Our Past!

A people's relationship to their heritage is the same as the relationship of a child to its mother…John Henrik Clarke

John Henrik Clarke, was a Pan-Africanist writer, historian, professor, and a pioneer in the creation of Africana studies and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 60’s. Its personalities like John Clarke, a country like USA who actually have youngest history yet have been conserved thousands of heritage site; I delebretly not used the term heritage structures & will explain why so in our sharing ahead. The best part or privilege which I enjoy most being a builder along with whatsoever little exposure with environment is I get to come across many segments of the society which rather as a commoner I would have missed! In one such encounter St Mary’s students approached me for their project of which topic was Pune’s heritage. Being one of the most respected & oldest school St Mary’s schools building itself is one of the heritage structures but what I was curious is about what kind of questioner these girls will come up with. As the best fun is to face school or college kids; because of their enthusiasm what will come out of their mind is like guessing a magic hat!
And this time also it didn’t disappointed me as this sharing is outcome of the encounter with those students over heritage of Pune, if there is left any!

The girls have mailed me their questions & it was a video shoot type interview where I was supposed to speak or answer my views on the questions which have been sent to me. I skip the person questions like my education & work but will share the questions here which are related to heritage…

1. What are your views about heritage of Pune?

2. What can be done to conserve these heritage sites?

3. What according to you is the cause for the deteriorating condition of the same?

4. While conserving heritage, development of architecture can’t be stopped. How do you believe a balance can be strike between the two?

5. What do you think can be done by us to conserve the heritage of Pune?

6. Anything else you will like to guide us?

Well the questions itself will give you glimpse of what comes next but before I started answering; one question I asked them which they seems to have missed, rather their teachers only have missed it & that’s most common mistake when we speak about heritage & that’s is “How you define something as an Heritage structure or site?” Agreed with their 9th std age group I didn’t expected something extraordinary reply yet just wanted to know what they think about the subject. They did fairly well technically as tan heritage is a structure which has some history attach to it & it’s something which has significant age etc. Nothing wrong as even if asked to a grownup he will also reply on the same line. But then we all have stereo type attitude whenever subjects like environment or heritage comes up as we have been taught not to think out of the box.

I told to the girls that it’s not necessary that a heritage has to be a structure in first place as anything man made or nature made in totality can be a heritage site! For e.g. what is the oldest thing in Pune? They said Shaniwarwada, They weren’t knowing “Pataleshwar caves at Jm road; not may knows it anyway! I said what about river? On this they giggled & accepted yes the river is oldest thing in Pune & served also the city at its best. So I asked why have you haven’t considered it as heritage?  Think guys an age old banyan tree in Empress garden or the river or Parvati hill, so many natural heritages we have & yet we forget to even acknowledge them. That’s how my answering started. So in my view first we need to define what we meant heritage & let’s not restrict our definition to just some buildings which have been residence of some historic name but every that site or even locality which has witnessed history & served man kind in some way. I think that should be the definition of heritage & it’s this definition we should cultivate in the kids.

We are well aware of conditions at heritage sites in Pune; as when we can’t maintain our daily needs things like roads & public toilets so who has got time & interest in maintaining some age old structures or sites! Our attitude towards our present gets reflected in the way we treat our heritages & that’s what we are witnessing! I doubt if any Govt or NGO has exact list of all the so called heritage sites in Pune leave apart knowing their condition! We can’t even maintain the buildings which have served us for different purposes we call heritage then what to comment about things like rivers or hills?  There is heritage cell in PMC & then we have Department at State level for Archeology which is supposed to deal with only historic important structures. Yet no one is taking direct responsibility of heritage sites is a fact. There is a list also of all heritage sites & buildings but what we do with them is a puzzle to me! The cause of deteriorating conditions of heritage sites is our negligent attitude towards our past & so called materialistic approach of the current society. We value or let’s say give importance to only those things which we think are profitable to us in materialistic way! For e.g. we will be care about a mall or multiplex which is serving our needs of shopping or entertainment & if anything we found wrong here we will protest but then who care if Shaniwarwada don’t have a decent parking or rest rooms for the visitors as we hardly go to Shaniwarwada for our fun time! This is the main cause as heritage sites are like senior people in our house, we don’t need them so we don’t do anything for them, as simple as that!

About conserving any heritage site, lets understand conservation doesn’t mean keeping it in age old form, but we should keep it in functional form. Like Sherlock Holmes’s, famous Backer Street House, the place should conserve the feel for the purpose it has been used. Recently there was big news in all papers about State Govt funding to acquire home where Dr Ambedkar has stayed in London & some billion pounds we will be spending. No grudges about this move but if we can spend billion pounds for a place where Dr Ambedkar has stayed for hardly two years, what about his birth place & where he has spent his life? Does anyone even know where he has born & what’s condition of the placed now? Similarly Pune has witnessed many legends like Lokmanya Tilak & Agarkar & the list is on but what about their residences & places they have worked at?

Heritage can be conserved by using current architecture to merge the past & present in a perfect way but look at the buildings in city area where Shaniwar wada & many age old building still exists! Look at the recent fly over piercing premise of Engineering College which itself is wonderful heritage piece of architecture! Why can’t the flyover be treated keeping in tune the design features of the college building? Similarly the famous FC road which is named after Fergusson College could have been developed in balancing the college structure but who cares? Let’s remember today whatever we are designing & building some of that only will be tomorrows heritage & we should plan it accordingly as the structure will serve the coming generations & it has to stood on time scale for becoming heritage! We need a policy which should not be obstacle in development; but at the same time aspect of any heritage site’s view has to be kept in mind while developing surrounding of any heritage structure, so the entire locality will assist in conservation of heritage sites. But look at our river or Parvati hill, slums & garbage carrying drains surrounds these sites & we claim that we are conserving heritage!

We have to learn to identify & respect the heritage as that’s backbone of our culture. Make these spots part of our city’s beautification plan & make ways to maintain them by provision of funding as well private participations. Make all the stake holders aware about importance of conserving the heritage of city & we can use its commercial value. For e.g. Singapore has got a heritage map of the old city & their future heritages; they have made a beautiful walking trail connecting all these sites. Why can’t we just copy such ideas? There are many countries around who have been benefitted commercially by tourism on heritage front, entire Europe is best example of it! All our pride is in calling ourselves a heritage rich city but it’s just a shell with nothing inside is reality! As ask our self if an outsider comes to us & asks to show him heritage of Pune, what we are going to show him? So first like environment, make heritage as priority on our agenda & incorporate the same in schools curriculum. Let each of us start thinking on same lines as any city or country who don’t respects its past soon itself becomes a history! Our heritages are our best asset & it’s high time we should understand it. Let’s take top ten heritage sites in city first as a case study, work out on them, make them a role model & then apply the same formula for all the heritage sites & do it fast. Time has already ran away for the poor heritages of this city & if we don’t act now then all we will have is just so called past photographs & write-ups of them & we will be a society without any social aspect in it!

What I shared with the girls is don’t make this effort of yours as just one more school project but share it on as many platforms you can. As sharing is just a start & some where someone will make the difference with this sharing! Best way to conserve the heritage is by being part of that history in present & carrying it ahead. It’s not what we have earned but what leave behind is what going to matter in the end, lets remind it ourselves as there only lies any hope for our heritage sites!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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