On World Heritage Day, Mumbai’s historic landmarks remain silent, forgotten bystanders that need more than the occasional cosmetic relook
“Yaha par poster chipkana mana hai!” yelled the security guard, as he darted towards the spot where I stood to read a plaque on a building façade. It was a sultry May afternoon when yours truly was doing a recce on Dr DN Road, as part of a writing project to chart heritage walk routes. Much to his disappointment that would have possibly been his superhero act of the day, I politely informed that I had no such intentions, and was interested in reading the information etched on the plaque.
Two hours later, I discovered that a majority of buildings on one side of the historic road had plaques that revealed fascinating anecdotes about its origins. It was unlike anything one had read in history books; a refreshing initiative that would benefit both citizen and tourist.
A decade has passed. Today, as UNESCO observes International Day for Monuments and Sites, referred to as World Heritage Day, one is tempted to take stock if Mumbai’s iconic landmarks are seeing better days. A shot in the arm has been social media’s role to create awareness for heritage initiatives. The rise in walking tours (and participants) has been a positive fallout. Increasingly, one is seeing newer parts of the city get their place in the sun. Another observation has been the rise in youth engagement for restoration and conservation projects, for research studies and photography projects centred on the city’s heritage and history. Seminars dedicated to Mumbai’s architecture find space on annual itineraries while public festivals are simplifying the idea of heritage. It’s a gradual change, and the average Mumbaikar needs to be applauded for this sustained attempt to create a shift in mindset.
In contrast, the powers that be are yet to fully put their weight behind these treasures. We saw the last-minute effort to spruce up Banganga Tank before the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For years, heritage and music lovers have been fighting to bring back the famed music festival to this oasis in a buzzing metropolis. In not-so-far Elephanta, the caves lie in neglect due to lack of sufficient monitoring.
A few years ago, this newspaper backed an initiative by city conservationists to push for UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the Victorian and Art Deco ensemble that overlooked Oval Maidan. It proved to be an eye-opener — of the struggle for support in every sense. At the mercy of real estate sharks and mindless measures to ‘develop’ the city, the road ahead for Mumbai’s heritage seems pothole-ridden, mirroring the plight of our roads.
For long, this column has voiced such concerns — of the need for a heritage-cool Mumbai. And. we’ll continue to do so, just like that 20-year-old collegian who keen to do his bit for Khotachiwadi after submitting a blueprint for its conservation.
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