Friday, July 04, 2008

Special - Will Delhi Wake Up to its Heritage?

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Period Bedroom

Sexing up the city's ruins.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

It took 2,000 years of recorded history and more than 1,000 tombs, forts, havelis, baolis, darwazas for Delhi to emerge as India's first possible 'World heritage city'.

The city-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) signed a MoU with the Delhi government on July 3rd so that urban development happens in sync with the Capital's architectural marvels.

It was high time. After all, according to writer Mr. William Dalrymple, "only Rome, Istanbul and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains".

Too busy due to its national scope, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protects only 174 monuments in the city. The rest (out of an approximately 1,200 monuments), taken care of by NDMC and MCD, are gradually disappearing — blame the hoodlums and general indifference. "We drive past them, take a shortcut through them, walk our dogs on their grounds," says Ms. Rakhshanda Jalil, author of Invisible City.

Will the new tag help? I talked to Mr. AGK Menon, INTACH Delhi chapter convener. "We will consult the government on the protection of legally unprotected monuments," he says. "Heritage City status will also bring the monuments closer to the people, as in Rome and Istanbul."


Should we expect Purani Dilli, too, to soon boast chaikhanas as charming as Parisian caf├ęs? Will we nibble on seekh kebabs while lounging on wrought iron chairs lining the traffic-free, fly-free Jama Masjid by-lanes (with no overhead wires disrupting the masjid's view)?

May be.

A special heritage corridor is mapped from Lal Qila to Humayun's Tomb. Landscape, lighting, hoarding and signage will be designed "to improve the visual literacy of the Delhiwallas towards monuments", according to Mr. Menon. Each site — Dilli Gate, Khooni Darwaza, Ferozeshah Kotla, Purana Qila and more — will dazzle and won't be just another stony dot on your commute.

However, more than anything else, the stunning settings in ruins like Purana Qila and Humayun's Tomb are great to just spend time in. Too bad they hardly see local visitors. Heritage City may bring in those missing Dilliwallas.


monica said...

Hopefully these are moves in the right direction. The chaaikhanas and kebabs with pakore thrown in would possibly encourage Delhiwallas, to at least try to engage with the rich heritage round them. Developing children's activities and more awareness through interactive school trips may be helpful. Most people are either in too much of a rush or too lazy to engage....

VK said...


hw increduluos it might be but while in delhi one just does not explore enough...wonder why so?

am one of the inert, loser category too, if u may so call them

Garam Beni said...

Er, no. Delhi is peopled by morons and ruled by slimy builders and lawyers and policed by semi literate thugs. Heritage City status will be good though. Maybe they'll put fences around some of the monuments and throw out the drug addicts for a few months after which we'll be back to reading/writing posts like this lamenting Delhi's loss of its heritage and Arvind Kejriwal will be crying himself hoarse on NDTV about his RTI petition on how crores meant for restoration work vanished and we'll go and gawk with righteous, and utterly impotent feelings of outrage at the way 'raju' has scrawled a large heart proclaiming eternal love for 'dolly' on the face of a column bearing 400 year old inlay work of quranic verses.

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

Thank you for a great post Mayank Mian!

Keep up!


Anonymous said...

How Delhi has managed to rape and at best ignore all its heritage! People elsewhere too are illiterate and poor, but somehow most often they do have the good sense not to pee on thousand year old tombs.
I am not sure half the Cabinet in the city's government wouldn't do exactly that.
Is that what explains it then?

applepiecrust said...

I don't know what to make of Delhi's callous attitude towards its monuments, and really, towards other aspects of its heritage. I doubt it is the lack of literacy or the poverty or whatever else we might want to blame for this degeneration. I think we can only blame ourselves, a residents of this city.

But, yeah, I hope positive changes are made. Soon.

Anonymous said...

Can I recommend a book... "The Delhi That No-one Knows," by R.V. Smith (a native of Dilli). I am not familiar enough with many of the personalities, but it is fascinating history.

Anonymous said...

well! great going.. How about taking a look at
it is about the heritage city. the images gives a glimpse about " the living past of delhi"
it is a pride..............
take alook