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Heritage of callousness

Heritage of callousness
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All India Radio tapes of historic speeches by freedom-fighters were erased for reuse in the Sixties because new tapes were not available in its...

All India Radio tapes of historic speeches by freedom-fighters were erased for reuse in the Sixties because new tapes were not available in its Vijayawada studios; Precious stones were pulled out of the tombs defacing the magnificent Paigah mausoleums of Hyderabad. So much for our respect for history

In our active reporting days, we did not have the benefit of cut and paste technology. The basic three Rs those days were: revisit (your old report), rehash and reuse after a reasonable interval of, say, six months. I must confess, rather sheepishly, that I too had benefitted from this simple technology.

I had fished out a number of magazine features on old monuments and other tourist attractions of Shahr Hamara, employing this time-tested and time-saving technique.(Hello! This is off the record as our netas say.) My visit to these places evoked in me a twinge of pain and anger for the ruinous indifference of the authorities to their conservation and maintenance. I always felt that we have no respect for history and what we have is a heritage of callousness bordering on vandalism.

In the mid-80s, VV Krishna Sastry, renowned archaeologist and Director of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, showed me round the Paigah tombs, considered one of the wonders of Hyderabad. What had hit me instantly was not so much the breath-taking architectural engineering on display at the Paigah mausoleums as the shocking state of dilapidation. Security, if it was present, was hardly visible. Precious stones were gouged out of the tombs.

It was a reprise of the tragic story at the Gunfoundry. The top ka sancha, the cannon ball foundry, was set up for the Nizam by the French general Michael Joachim Raymond in 1786. Raymond’s tomb stands near the Doordarshan tower in Azamgarh (Malakpet) The neighbourhood (Moosarambagh) is named after him. The heritage site, located ironically in a lane opposite the Directorate of Archaeology, closely abuts residential houses and serves as a convenient garbage dump for the residents.
Badshahi Ashurkhana, built a few years after Charminar, was for many years a victim of mushrooming encroachments in its immediate vicinity. Thanks to intervention by the High Court, it has transformed enough to win INTACH award for sensitive restoration.

Stone plaques showing the highest flood level of the catastrophic Musi floods of September 1908 had dotted several parts of the city until the eighties. A few still remain, for instance at the police station at Chaderghat bridge and on the wall of a masjid in Petlaburz.

The authorities appear to have a knack of not doing what ought to be done -demolishing dilapidated structures- and not doing what ought to be done - protecting heritage sites. The City Life hotel mishap and the Moulali wall collapse have brought to the fore several other heritage structures in the Capital that cry for urgent attention.

Media reports quote heritage conservation experts to warn that ‘around 15 per cent of the nearly 140 heritage buildings in Hyderabad and its outskirts are in a dilapidated condition and require immediate intervention of the authorities lest they collapse.’ Among the many structures needing priority intervention by way of partial demolition or restoration are Irrum Manzil on the busy Punjagutta road, housing many Government offices, Moazzamjahi market, Old jail complex in Monda market area of Secunderabad.

Conservation activists A Suryanarayana Murthy and Sajjad Shahid point out that a High Court order directing Government to include G Block of the Secretariat complex in the list of heritage structures for restoration remains unimplemented. Many chief ministers from Neelam Sanjiva Reddy to NT Rama Rao had their offices in this block. Kothi darwaza, the imposing gateway to the Women’s College, once the British Residency, was razed to the ground in the sixties to facilitate smooth flow of traffic! Old timers still grieve the loss of this great landmark.

On a visit to Horsely Hills many years ago, I had stumbled upon a pile of brick tiles marked ‘Basil Tile Works 1865’ exposed to rain and shine. These tiles, which had withstood the vagaries of nature, were used in the construction of the oldest building on the hill resort.

I was told that All India Radio tapes of historic speeches by freedom-fighters were erased for reuse in the Sixties because new tapes were not available in its Vijayawada studios!

In contrast, let us see how the Americans zealously protect their ‘heritage’ sites. I noticed what looked like an electric generator mounted on a pedestal at a busy square in Columbus in recognition of its uninterrupted services during the world war II. Can you beat it?

On the positive side, conservation activists and general public successfully prevented demolition of a 1000-year-old temple in Tamil Nadu. The Siva temple at Manambadi near Kumbakonam was marked for demolition by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for a four-lane project. The temple was said to be built by the great Chola King, Raja Rajendra (1012-44).
Media highlighted the poor state of the house in Mysooru where writer RK Narayan had lived and suggested that the Government take it over. The building was partially dismantled by a private developer. All that Government could do was to notify it as a heritage building.

So much for our respect for history! Those who forget history will have no history to remember.

(The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad)
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