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‘What use is a heritage building if not even 10 people visit it?’-The Times of India

Already, the existing list of 675 heritage structures in a developing city like Mumbai is way too long. Look, the Taj Mahal is clearly a symbol of heritage, maybe the Agra Fort is too. But if you were to include 1,000 buildings on Agra’s heritage list you would stop the development of that city.

A heritage structure only acquires value if at least 10 people from the nearby ward visit it every day. If not even 10 people from the same ward go to see it, what use is an old building? People go to Crawford Market to buy fruits and vegetables, they use CST to commute, not to gaze at the architecture. I am not implying that these should be demolished to make way for a mall or a 100-storey building but Mumbai needs development, not heritage.

…  London has 500,000 heritage structures while Scotland has 46,000. But they are not growing economies like India. And, in 8any case, must we do what everybody is doing? (via ‘What use is a heritage building if not even 10 people visit it?’-Mumbai-Cities-The Times of India).

Endlich …

Like many slave cultures of the past, Britain too is caught in the cross beams of history. More than half a million heritage structures is being effete, decadent and declining. It means giving up. Finito. Completo. Terminato. Endlich. Eindig. ändlig. They are preserving their yesterdays, as they have given up on ever being able to make a better tommorrow.

Jairaj Pathak is right. Very right.

India’s missing monuments

How come there are no Indian equivalents to the pyramids or a coliseum? Why did India never build a Great Wall? Where is the Indian Parthenon? Why are there no great palace complexes? How is it that that there are no Indic mausoleums? Where is India’s Forbidden City?

The Pyramids, The Coliseum, The Great Wall, were all monuments that were raised by slave societies. To impress the slave population? India has no such monuments because India had no slave populations to build such showpieces – and no slaves to impress.

Show case cities are a anti-poor – and a symbol of exploitation. Whether these are in Communist Moscow or Capitalist New York, show case cities are a symbol of slavery and exploitation. Indians did not much care for show case cities, starting with Tughlak’s Tuglakabad and Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri, were seen as a lost cause.

Classical India

Valmiki’s Ramayana, is breathless with wonder, at Lanka – and makes no mention of ‘wonders of Ayodhya’ as a city. So, shining and gleaming cities were out of place in India – but Indians did associate show case cities with slave-societies of Asuras.

Mahabharata has interesting insight on man-nature conflict – a cautionary tale about the Khandava dahan, and the building of Indraprastha, which the Pandavas lost very quickly. The Pandavas, having secured a favorable award from Dhritarashtra, in their inheritance dispute, decided to set up a new capital.

A reluctant architect, the divine Maya, was pressured, persuaded and influenced to build Indraprastha. The site chosen for the new capital city – a forest, Khandava. Overcome by their hubris, the Pandavas, burnt down the entire forest – and the animals inhabiting the forest. In place of the forest came up the gleaming new city of Indraprastha.

All the kings were called to marvel at the new city. And in her pride, Draupadi mocked at Duryodhana – a guest. To avenge this mockery, Duryodhana challenged Yudhithira for a game of chess (instead of a war) – which Yudhishthira promptly lost. They lost their new city – and were sent, into exile by Duryodhana. Lessons duly learnt, the Pandavas after the completion of their exile, asked for five villages. After winning the War Of Mahabharat, they ruled from the ancient capital of Hastinapur. No more gleaming cities for them.

Cities in Indian history

Cut to Alexander.

Alexander’s campaign to drum up alliances, with Indian kings on the borders of his Persian empire, did not yield much gold or wealth. Unlike the description of Persian cities, the description of Indian cities in all the Greek accounts, is of very simple and plain Indian cities. Not one Indian city is extolled for its beauty, or its buildings, palaces or temples.

What gives?

Unlike Alexander’s experience of poor pickings in India, the Greek image of India, in history, was different. There were wild tales about Indian ants, big as foxes and jackals, that mined gold. These were tales related by Pliny, Herodotus, Strabo, Arrian – partly, based on reports from Megasthenes. And the very same Greek sources show that with each victory, at kingdom after kingdom, Alexander gained little in terms of gold. Unlike many other subsequent raiders.

What gives?

War elephants

War elephants

Extant Indian society

Three elements of the Indian economic system were unique till the 19th century – property ownership by the commoners, widespread ownership of gold and absence of slavery (defined as capture, trade and forced labour by humans – without compensation).

The Indian social structure in pre-Alexandrian Indian had widespread gold and property ownership. With complete absence of slavery, wages could also rise above subsistence levels. This restricted the wealth of Indian rulers – and thus impressive monuments, buildings and palaces are rare or non-existent in pre-medieval India. Thus Indian cities were plain and simple. Royal treasuries were hence, meagre.

Colonial Indian rule dispossessed many Indians of their property – and concentrated wealth in the hands of the few – the Thakurs and the Zamindars. Indians were dispossessed of their gold in the Squeeze Indian Campaign of 1925-1945 – started by Churchill and Montagu Norman and continued by Neville Chamberlain.

Urbanisation in modern India …

Mumbai wants to become another Shanghai, says ex-Chief Minister, Vilas Rao Deshmukh. This aspiration is something that is mostly referred in a derisive manner by others – thankfully.

What Indian cities need instead, is to learn from the home grown examples. For instance, the Mumbai urban train transport system. For a monthly cost of Rs.70-200 (US$2-US$5), people in Mumbai can travel any number of times, in relative discomfort. It is a safe mode of transport – unlike the legacy rail system of the Colonial Britain, which India modernised over 35 years. Accidents on this system happen due to its popularity – overcrowded trains. It is also profitable – and devoid of subsidies. Similar metros (not in scale or traffic though) have come up in Kolkatta and New Delhi.

What Indian cities needs are an Indian idiom – to solve the problems of these Indian cities. Will Indian planners deliver! Jairaj Pathak at least is on the right track.

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