Let’s protect and preserve our heritage sites
For the past many weeks now the space in the newspapers has remained filled with news stories and articles about the loss of the 200-year-old Dastageer Sahab Shrine in the downtown of Srinagar city. This shrine had as much historic significance as it had a heritage value and thus the loss is colossal. Since the day the shrine got gutted in a horrifying inferno, the value of every other heritage site suddenly seems priceless. And as the inheritors of this rich heritage and architectural marvels, we now feel a need for their preservation and maintenance.
Incidents like these, which deprive us of our cherished past, can be one-off. Whether or not this could have been averted, as is being argued by many, is a moot point. There are a number of incidents which may not be as horrifying and destructive, but yes, these sites are facing a perennial threat as they are being defaced and disfigured. There are umpteen examples which can be cited.
To find solace in its serene surroundings and revisit the good times, I recently visited my Alma Mater, S P College, after nearly seven years. The College is one of the oldest in Srinagar and a few years back observed its centenary celebrations. As a student I was always astonished by its heritage buildings—more particularly the one which houses the principal's office—nestled in the shades of majestic chinars and surrounded by verdant, well-kempt parks and avenues. On my visit I was shocked to see the wanton destruction going on in the name of construction of some new building or department in the backside lawns. A concrete monster, completely incongruous with the elegant heritage structures, is being built there. And all this is going on without thinking about the existing layout of the campus and with utter disregard of aesthetics. Isn’t this the destruction of our heritage sites? One may argue that the college needs to cater to more students and may need more infrastructure in the form of buildings, but then these new structures do not need to be a clone of the old heritage ones, but could be constructed in a way so that these are in sync with the surroundings. The existing buildings, which still look elegant decades after they were built, should not be defaced.
A visit to the "picturesque" Kashmir University campus proved equally distressing. In the campus my eye was caught by a humongous green concrete building alongside one of the oldest and most elegant buildings on the campus: the erstwhile Arts Block. This new concrete structure or the humanities block is completely out of place with the surroundings, and its very existence there is a defacement of the building standing by its side. Isn’t this the destruction of our heritage?
My batch-mate friend, who had come home for holidays, was equally saddened to see this towering structure spoiling the otherwise charming campus. Disappointed, we decided to take a stroll through the Naseem Bagh. And it was more upsetting. While Naseem Bagh has been developed into a chinar heritage park, another concrete structure named "guest house" has been erected in the midst of the park, completely incongruous with the surroundings unlike other wooden barracks which at least fall in line with the milieu. Rue. That’s all we could do.
Like any other structures, our vernacular architectural heritage faces natural threats. However, in our case the threats are man-made and are proving more detrimental for these sites while no one seems to bother. Or is it when we lose them completely, like the shrine at Khanyar, that we may feel concerned towards these sites. If the defacement and disregard towards these sites continues, and if we continue to dot our landscape with concrete jungle, we would soon be bereft of what we have inherited and what we see as our identity.
Heritage doesn't belong to any particular individual or any particular department or government body—even if it may have a mandate to "preserve and promote" these sites. It’s an asset which belongs to the people collectively as a nation. And we as inheritors of this legacy need to check this menace. Through signboards, newspaper adverts, we are informed that "defacement of macadamised roads is a crime and violators will be prosecuted." One wonders is there an exemption in case of the defacement of heritage sites?
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Lastupdate on : Sun, 5 Aug 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 5 Aug 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 6 Aug 2012 00:00:00 IST
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