Monday, March 12, 2018

Balgandharva Rang Mandir & Dying Heritage of the City!

“It is not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage you leave behind”… Branch Rickey.

Wesley Branch Rickey was an American baseball player and sports executive. He was perhaps best known for breaking Major League Baseball's color barriers by signing African American player & he turned a motivational speaker in later years of career.  Often great quotes have come from great players or artists as may be because their performance itself becomes our heritage for the next generations, which gets reflected in words coming from them, is what I feel. As when I read the news successively about a proposal of demolishing existing Balgandharva Rang Mandir i.e. BRM (actually theater isn’t the term I will like to use) it’s the words used in the quote came to my mind. Will share a bit about BRM, the work started in 1061 & the building get in to operation in 1968 (year of my birth, a coincidence), considering the speed with which our govt departments actually works, that was pretty fast I must say. Spread on nearly 30,000 sft area of land, this 1000 persons capacity theater cum auditorium soon become pride of Pune & a modern times heritage. It has also got an art gallery, first of its kind that time in Pune, spread over 3000sft in addition to theater & spacious parking. What’s more important is its most strategic location as it right in the centre of city & on JM road which is probably the link between east & west of the city. No wonder soon the BRM becomes a land mark not as a theater for dramas & many cultural programs but became an address by itself for modern Pune.

And what more irony it could have been there that in golden jubilee year (50th) of this iconic structure, discussions are going about demolishing it! Since the news got out there has been as usual debates, commotions going on in social as well news media from both sides. No wonder every political party now days wants to be part of anything which is trending socially, so immediately all other parties other than ruling parties jumped in to oppose the decision of demolishing this heritage structure & pride of Pune. Well, its these same political parties when was in ruling I don’t remember giving a damn about maintaining this pride of Pune neither ever bothered that it’s been put on use for which Balgandharva Rang Mandir has been built. Because for years now there has been war between the artists’s associations versus the political part for allowing this building to use for respective use.  As the building belongs to PMC means as political bosses (as per the logic which goes in PMC, that any public building is owned by them) wish they will use it. No wonder with its central location & vicinity to PMC itself, most of the political events are carried out majorly in BRM. This makes impact in very bad way on cultural programs as most of these political problems are fixed at eleventh hour & as per the convenience of political bosses, it affects schedule of pre-booked cultural events like dramas or some art show. At the same time the kind of visitors come here for political events, well we all know the way our dear ‘karyakartas” of all parties uses any public property; making life difficult for the actual users who come here for art & culture!  And then when you say owe something, it’s not done by having your name on property card of that structure, it’s by the way how you maintain or look after that structure & on this front why Balgandharva Rang Mandir but every public structure no govt dept deserves to own, such pathetic way they are maintained. Even about BRM, right from the artists to audience, everybody has slammed PMC for worst maintenance of sitting chairs, back stage arrangements, sound as well AC systems & lastly the toilets; well do I required to say more about the public hygiene aspect of our city? And it’s not only the Balgandharva Rang Mandir, look at any so called monuments or heritage buildings in the city or even the places like Paravti or Railway station & many such, what we see is disgusting state of maintenance which actually displays the true culture of our city i.e. our dirty & negligent attitude towards our so called heritage, though many die hard Punekars won’t like it but it’s a bitter truth! Name one single place (not Malls or IT buildings) where we can take our outsider guests & show them cultural or heritage places of the city! And for a city which boosts itself as cultural capitol of the State, this surely isn’t thing of pride!

So, on this background I question to all the Punekar’s do we deserve to have heritage structures like Balgandharva Rang Mandir in first place? And if yes then what we are doing to maintain them in proper condition & shape as well put to right use for which we have built them? And when we have failed to perform our duty towards this monument to allow it to exist with pride then what moral right we have, to say not to demolish it? Now, the aspect of necessity of demolishing BRM comes in picture as it’s not the action but intention behind the action is what matters me most. No specific reason has been given to demolish the Balgandharva Rang Mandir by the rulers rather this is what bug me most, as if your intentions are clear & clean then why are you afraid of justifying the action by putting it in open? As if Punekar considers BRM as their heritage then let them know the need to demolish is more important for the city & build something better at the same place which will fulfill the increased cultural as well artistic needs of this so called Cultural Capitol City! But then inside currents says different story as the very convenient location for the Metro interchange nearby this place can be used as parking need for the Metro travelers & to cater that under the name of rebuilding of BRM, this existing structure is planned to be demolished is what inside whispers says! If this is the truth then the action of demolishing needs to be condemned as city already lacks on cultural outlets is a fact & BRM is one of the finest (like a fraze in Marathi, “wasarat langdi guy shahani”), I mean whatever we have at hand in comparison to that, & demolishing it & building something which will be focused around a parking lot & other commercial activities & in between all that somewhere an auditorium for performing arts, is definitely not accepted! As we are in 21stcentury & if only parking is the issue then it can be done below the building, keeping the building intact or even below the PMC building itself. Joke is when we knew upcoming Metro & its route since last ten years, yet the new building has been build in PMC premise recently which could have been build with multi level parking-lot below it for the proposed Metro interchange at PMC; but then planning was, is & will never be our forte, is unfortunate fortune of this city! Agreed both above options wouldn’t be easy but then surely it would have been lot easier & less costly than demolishing BRM & taking away cultural outlet for the citizens for at least next five years. As that much time will be required to build anything new with best possible speed of our govt system & then who guaranties that interest of the citizens will be taken care in new structure? As once the existing structure is demolished then we will be entirely at mercy of the new PPP model where interests of the commercial benefits occurring out of this development will be more important under the name of feasibility of the project!

Here I remember one of the cases in Amsterdam, Holland with my friend who resides there. In his neighborhood there was a beautiful park & a public building. After some years the civic body realized that to maintain this building isn’t a viable or feasible thing so they deiced to convert it in a commercial development. But before that they called every family living in the visual vicinity of this existing public building & park, showed them the proposed development in which all care has been taken not to disturb the view of day to day activities like parking or traffic in the neighborhood. Opinions in written has been asked by the residents around, their suggestions incorporated, the purpose & need of demolishing the existing public building was explained to them & only after consent of majority of the residents around the said public building was demolished & a new development was done! I think this is where a developed country defers from our beloved country, which we considered as progressing but the said progress is just for few & never for the masses. Though this doesn’t defines the so called opponents (read political parties) of the demolishment decision of BRM right, as they are opposing for their own selfish reasons & surely not for the interest of the city. 

At the same time BRM isn’t the first heritage to give way for our so called development plans of future as I remember when I came to Pune in mid eighties there was a huge fountain at university road, where stands now a fly over. That fountain in a way was heritage for the city as lets first understand how we define something as heritage. By Cambridge Dictionary a heritage means, “features (read monuments) belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historical importance”. Well, this definition is by dictionary; by me, a heritage monument, it can be a place, a surrounding, a structure which has been part of our society where people has spent their time as well which has been part of memories of the masses over sizable time span (mostly for good reasons). A heritage can be manmade or even natural too as not necessary as it’s not the creator but the people who are beneficiary of these creations makes it an heritage. Like the university road fountain, there are many such places in every city around which memories of generations has been tied of & this is what we need to understand while we think of development. Rather high time a city level policy should be made (by the way, there is a heritage cell at PMC) not just to identify the heritages but how much weightage we give them while we restructure the city for future needs. Because a heritage for one generation may be obstacle or inadequate for next generation, in such case does it really remains a heritage or not is the question. Agreed BRM is here for fifty years & have been witness to many important moments in these five decades but may be its purpose is done can also be other side of the coin. Only thing is today its BRM tomorrow it will be PMC building itself as looking at the spread & volume of workload, sure the existing building of PMC will be required to rebuild to take care the expectation from the same & so does many public buildings. As all these buildings which today we are calling as heritage are built for need of past era & may be they are not suitable for today’s demands. But demolishing of such structures is justified only if they are really failing to deliver for what they have been build for & we (read govt) has taken genuine efforts to maintain them in their best form. Which definitely is not the case with BRM & that’s why personally I feel we should rethink demolishing of BRM! 

Because with every passing year something new will come up & old has to give way for the new entrants is the law of nature. Still every generation will leave behind something for coming generation & it may not be necessarily some garden or structure but what philosophy or culture we will be leaving behind for our next generation will be the real heritage! After demolishing Balgandharva Rang Mandir building there might come some more better building on its place but the true purpose or thought process behind the decision of demolishing it, will be the real heritage we will be leaving for the next generation & that is what will decide fate of our society & not just city is the fact we should understand today!
Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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