Fiona Fernandez: Heritage keepers: The supporting list

Feb 20, 2017, 06:24 IST | Fiona Fernandez

We smiled as we flirted with options for the title for this column. Heritage keepers. Seriously. As unknown a task force to us, until a decade ago, these faceless folk have come to be the anchors around which heritage experts and museums are able to breathe new life and hope for the city's heritage.

Only recently, we came across the signing off of another successful restoration of a landmark — Wellington Fountain — in Colaba. The fountain that pre-dates Flora Fountain was restored by conservation architect Vikas Dilawari and his team, ably supported by INTACH with funding from a prominent Indian business house. It's a shot in the arm for the heritage movement, as it comes at a time when heritage across the city — tangible and otherwise — is fighting against the odds. As we pored over data — visual and otherwise — one factor came through strongly. There was an army of hands who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the project was completed with clockwork precision. "Our conservationists left no stone unturned," assured Dilawari (we did not miss the idiom falling nicely into place here), while recounting the effort.

It made us hit the rewind button (an apt obsession, this) to the many countless folk we've encountered in our past adventures who've sifted through dusty files, walked past creaking wooden floors, combated the city's harsh conditions to protect exhibits and structures, or negotiated countless rows and sections of tomes. The first faces that come to mind are the staff at the library inside the Asiatic Society at the Town Hall. They carry one like worker bees, sifting, sorting and piling up thousands of titles. Ever helpful, despite no lofty degrees in library management, their knowledge of its innards was of the jaw-dropping variety. And when we'd need access to the Holy Grail areas (read: microfilm department), it was another eye-opener. Apart from baffled looks on faces that were used to seeing only silver-haired researchers or college professors, they'd willingly be on call, and guarded these chapters of the city's history with zeal.

Each time we've visited Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, the goings-on at the buzzing INTACH lab within the building caught the eye. This one time we attended a workshop on restoration by them, and we were finally able to witness their wholehearted dedication to ensure that rare artefacts and exhibits survived the city's unfriendly weather. Another space (and an intimidating one, this) where we stumbled upon similar nameless caretakers was inside the office of the State Archives tucked away behind the Elphinstone College building at Kala Ghoda. While their stern demeanour could be a put-off at the start, most are eventually happy to play guide through the heady (dust republic) and neck-cringing (really high shelves) labyrinths of invaluable history.

Back to the present. We noticed how several conservationists were busy at their job on site at the fountain – sweating it out under scaffolding, paying close attention to every minor detail. When this landmark is thrown open to the public, as thousands of citizens and tourists gaze at its restored glory, it's a virtual pat on the back for these fellas.
These silent keepers perform a salute-worthy cause. The heritage community remains indebted to them. So is Bombay.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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