HIGHLIGHTING HERITAGE

The Future Ideas team spent an exciting day walking through the heritage corridors of Mumbai-South. On this tour conducted by Ms. Shraddha Bhatawadekar, an enthusiastic history major, archeologist and heritage lover,a true Mumbaikar we received insights into Mumbai’s architectural heritage and questioned the place of “heritage” in a city like Mumbai.In this conversation, with Shraddha, we probe that lens further to discern the intimate linkages between a city, its citizens and its heritage. 

 

About the Interviewee:

Shraddha Hemant Bhatawadekar is an archaeologist and cultural heritage expert. She is currently working in the field of Conservation, Heritage Management and Sustainable Tourism Development. She has worked on numerous projects ranging from UNESCO World Heritage Site Management Plans, Nomination Dossiers, Urban Heritage Conservation and Revitalisation of spaces within Historic Sites and Urban Areas, as well as Community and Visitor Profile Studies Studies and Cultural Linkages. She is passionate about heritage of Mumbai & hasbeen conducting heritage walks and tours in different parts of the city forseveral years to engender interest in the ‘unknown’ past of the city.

 

Future Ideas (FI): Could you please take us on a virtual heritage tour of Mumbai as a historic city highlighting the diverse heritage structures, especially ones that are your favorite and the ones that are lesser known or ‘hidden’?

 

Shraddha(S): My true fascination with heritage started long ago with my first visit to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, popularly known as VT (Victoria Terminus- Editors). It was around the dusk when I got down at VT and came out on the main road. The grand building greeted me outside. I stood gazing at the monumental edifice;  glowing  in  the last  disappearing  rays  of  the  sun.  This was the station I had seen appearing in almost every Bollywood movie, but the sheer monumentality struck me at that very moment. And in the middle of thousands of streaming visitors, I was standing alone, bewildered, with many questions swarming in my mind- who built this? Why did he build this at such a grand scale? What was the purpose? What does the statue on top of this structure depict? Why are there lion and tiger guarding the main gate and why this beautiful peacock carving on the building?  Who are these people depicted in the portrait roundel?  How is it still standing unnoticed? I looked here and there. I noticed that I was the only person looking curiously at the monument; there were few tourists from some other country taking pictures. But the rest…just moves hurriedly to catch the train back home.

I was so overwhelmed by my first encounter with heritage that I decided to explore it more and more.  Mumbai being my hometown, I chose Mumbai as a case study.  And the Mumbai I discovered was a different city, which I fell in love with. Mumbai, Bombay or Bom Bahia is usually known to everyone as a city that lives in the present and thinks about future, but hardly does one realize that the city has an interesting past. Heritage of Mumbai is not limited to the monumental structures of the British period (as many still believe), but the city has preserved a vast heritage dating back to the early centuries of Christian era or even prior. It ranges from caves, forts, temples, churches, vernacular houses to even smaller pieces such as milestones, which continue to offer glimpses into the rich past of this island city. Some of these monuments are well known, like Gateway of India, commemorating the visit of the first British King to India; Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the first railway terminus in India; Mumbai University, Bombay High Court, masterpieces of Neo-Gothic style; Kanheri Caves, located amidst Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Elephanta Caves, and the famous abode of Shiva. There are however many structures which remain unnoticed. How many people are aware of the remnants of the Bombay Fort situated in the complex of St. George’s Hospital? Has anyone noticed the hidden canon or the milestone near the Metro Cinema?  The monograms  that adorn the structures during the British  period,  such  as  GIPR  (Great  Indian  Peninsula  Railway-  on  Chhatrapati  Shivaji Terminus), or the statue of King Albert Edward VII on a black horse (after which the area in South Mumbai has been named as Kala Ghoda), now in Veer Jijamata Udyan have escaped attention. The beautifully sculpted temple at Ambarnath which dates back to the 11th century is unknown to many. Interestingly in Mumbai this past exists alongside present, in one space, which makes this city a unique place by the sheer dynamic contrast it offers.

 

FI: Taking the example of Mumbai, could you give us an idea about how heritage plays a role in enhancing a city’s context, uniqueness and brand identity?

 

S: The past of Mumbai often remains hidden, ignored, unnoticed and easy to fall prey to forces of urbanism and development. The reason being probably our idea of heritage is often not clear. Heritage by definition is something that was created in the past that survives in the present and has to be taken forward for the benefit of future generations. But it leads to obvious questions like how or why, since heritage can be considered equal to something that is ‘dead’ with no role to play in the present society. Urban heritage finds it even more difficult to sustain in the growing pressures of urbanism, threatening its very existence.

Then the questions arise – why preserve heritage, what role does heritage have in the city today? Built heritage is physical or tangible evidence or a memory of the past that has embedded in it several narratives that continue to reinforce cultural connections, tell the story of those unknown people who made their mark in history. It continues to inspire and offer links with the present. These are therefore not mere monuments, but represent the culture of the time, that has percolated down to the present society and therefore has a role to play in the present.

And therefore monuments become synonymous with a city- e.g. Taj Mahal symbolizing Agra, Hyderabad identified with Charminar, Gateway of India and CST becoming the ultimate image of Mumbai. And this context doesn’t remain confined to the region, but goes far and wide and becomes an international brand identity of a city. And this international branding helps the city attract more and more people to it. One such example can be seen in the tag of World Heritage Site given by UNESCO which leads to a great increase in tourism, which provides a boost to local economy; also further enhancing its identity. 

FI: How can we better decide what deserves preservation and what deserves to be bid farewell?

S: In a dynamic city context, where ‘change’ is the only constant, it is not possible to preserve everything of the past. What we preserve and what we discard is guided by the notions of significance, rarity, representivity and values that heritage possesses. The values heritage engenders are not only cultural, symbolic, historic, architectural or technological, but also socio- economic, which are guided by the current aspirations of the society. And these values and significance determine what remains of the past, as they provide justification for the survival of heritage and its preservation.

FI: You  mentioned  that  heritage  can  be  valuable  contributions  to  a  city  as  ‘value additions’. Could you please elaborate?

S: Heritage in itself is a symbol of continuity of traditions, customs of a society and reinforces sense of place and identity.  It has  along  with  it  other  benefits  such  as  enhanced  tourism generating  higher  revenues  and  improved  infrastructure  facilities.  It also gives a boost to restoration and rehabilitation efforts.  The  property  values  also  tend  to rise  when  closer  to heritage structures or located within the heritage premises itself, as it adds ‘prestige’.

FI: There are contradictory beliefs with regard to maintaining heritage.  How can an emphasis on rebuilding and adapting heritage lead to more sustainable and desirable city development?  Preserving heritage is essentially keeping one eye on the past constantly. Is that fair, given that cities can probably benefit by refocusing on newer infrastructure that addresses its problems more effectively and profitably.

S: Unfortunately the idea that heritage acts against development is very strongly rooted in the society today.  On the contrary heritage has to be seen as a ‘resource’ with a definite function and use in the present. Adaptive reuse of the ‘dead’ monuments will give them a new function, suitable  to  the  needs  of  the  present,  at  the  same  time  retaining  a  connect  with  the  past. Converting the last remnants of the textile mills in Mumbai into a textile museum, thereby making them commercially viable is one such example.

Heritage also needs to be integrated within the present socio-economic development, design and planning. Such efforts have taken place world over and we have examples such as Lyon, Amsterdam where this balance between heritage conservation and development has led to a sustainable city development, improving its functionality and livability.

FI: How can civic participation affect the debate on heritage? How can citizens engage with their city heritage better?

S: To manage and preserve heritage, active civic engagement can be an effective tool. There are proven examples of such citizen’s involvement in the city of Mumbai itself. There are several citizen’s groups such as OVAL Trust, Bombay Environment Action Group, CitiSpace, which have been instrumental in preserving heritage and open spaces of Mumbai Various public and private partnerships have ensured conservation of heritage structures in the city. Organizations such as Kala Ghoda Association have succeeded in promoting heritage and culture of Mumbai through Kala Ghoda Festival and have also generated funds for conservation, which has resulted in a facelift on the buildings of Kala Ghoda.

What is required is awareness about heritage as an asset, which will lead to better knowledge, participatory approach and innovations, leading to sustainability. I have been conducting heritage walks in the city of Mumbai for over eight years especially for school and college students; with the idea of disseminating knowledge about the past, engender interest in heritage and create an understanding of its role in the present. I am hopeful that this next generation will ‘value’ its own heritage and carry the mantle of conserving it, making the city a better place to live.

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