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Festivals Fade; Heritage Lasts

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We, the Government

By Hugh and
Colleen Gantzer

 

 

Traffic in Rome is very chaotic, and very Indian. So, for that matter, are Romans. Flying into Rome, after the very disciplined traffic of London, we waited for vehicles to obey the street lights. They didn’t. Then an Italian friend, seeing our plight, grabbed us by the arms and said, “In Rome you do not wait. You cross!” We crossed, though it took a while for our hearts to resume their normal cadence! Our Italian friend said, “Self-discipline is not one of our virtues.” We looked around at the beautiful old buildings, so lovingly preserved. Such conservation is both expensive and arduous. It certainly seemed to have demanded a great deal of dedication and self-discipline. Our friend shook his head. “Not so. We have very strict heritage laws. If you infringe them, one little bit, you will have the whole weight of the Italian bureaucracy on your head. And, believe me, they are far more formidable than your babus. Their stubbornness has its roots in the Roman Empire!”
Back home we attended a tourism festival and began to think of what he had said. We have enjoyed festivals all over the world. But though they attract visitors, they seldom attract repeat visitors. Most of them, at best, are like displays in shop windows: designed to lure you in. However, unless there is something inside to keep you interested, you won’t return. London has its Traditions, Paris has its Culture, Athens has its Myths and Rome has its History as embodied in its monuments. Rome, reputedly, was the first city to enforce its Heritage Act strictly. London, we know, identifies its heritage buildings with an oval, blue, plaque.
When a structure is identified as a Heritage Building, its owners can use it any way they like and are free to make internal changes, but they cannot alter its external appearance. This restriction is what sticks in most owners throats. “Why can’t I do what I like to my property?” they ask, indignantly. They forget that when they choose to live in a society with other humans, their rights are restricted by their duties to that society. If they want to drive on the wrong side of the road they might endanger the lives of others so they can’t do it. When Defence Service-personnel and their families live in a Defence establishment their ‘society’ gives them a whole range of social services including 24-hour protection. In return they have to conform to the strict codes of conduct laid down by their peers.
Similarly, we who live, and often make a living, in a tourist town must trim our rights to serve the overall prosperity of our town. If that means conserving our heritage buildings to serve the greater interests of our town, so be it.
How, then, does one make sure that the listing of a building as a Heritage Property has not been biased by personal, considerations? Simple: ask an independent expert agency to do such an assessment. The best of such organisations in India is the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage: the highly regarded INTACH. We phoned the Member-Secretary of INTACH and learnt that they have the experts to make such listings as they have done for Kodaikanal. When contracted to do such a survey, their team of experts undertakes a detailed study of the town, indentifies its man-made structures, examines their history, the need to conserve the most valuable, and then presents its formal Listing to their client.
Armed with such an unbiased and expert opinion, our Municipal Board can publicise the Heritage Properties of Mussoorie. This will serve as the authoritative foundation of an accurate, and official, Guide to Mussoorie. The existing, and amateur, Guides are a compilation of Victorian rumours, gossip and photographs. They are very entertaining but are often grossly inaccurate… INTACH has built up an enviable reputation for its painstaking work and anything that has its imprimatur can be relied upon as the best available.
To the Chairman of our City Board we now say INTACH’s address is 71, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi 110003 and its phone numbers are 24641304 and 24692774. We, the Government, wish you all success in preserving our heritage.