Fiona Fernandez: Who taught us about heritage?
India's education system needs to include heritage as an important subject. Only then will Gen Next gauge its relevance and act upon conserving it
For kids like us who grew up in the 1990s, our impression of the word 'heritage' represented a very different meaning from the real picture. It was a generalised term for India's art, culture and its monuments; some kind of a hotchpotch of imagery from across India. The Taj Mahal, Gateway of India, and forts, temples and museums; all of it conjured a generic meaning. There was no real classification between heritage structures, natural and manmade heritage, and tangible forms of it. We recall a history teacher being unable to answer our question about the exact term for a jharoka during an AV on Ahmedabad that was part of an 'activity' class on the subject. At the time, a Malayala Manorama yearbook (thank goodness for those tomes of knowledge!) was able to whet the appetite of the impatient, piqued mind.
Clearly, the education system in those days had never bothered to consider the subject's relevance to impressionable students. Years later, and very gradually, might we add, thanks to their work across the country, international organisations like UNESCO and World Monuments Fund, and India's INTACH began to find mention in newspapers. It provided for initial fodder in the early days of the Internet, and opened our minds to information worth its weight in gold. The curiosity has never ceased since then.
It's a little over a week since Ahmedabad became the first Indian city to earn the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site status. One wonders and hopes if India's education boards will seize the opportunity with this positive news, a massive success story for India's heritage movement. Wouldn't it be prudent and timely to use this example, to dedicate sufficient column space in textbooks across age groups and boards to drive home the point of heritage sites, and its importance in a rapidly changing world?
Such thoughts, we're pretty sure, must be on the minds of pallbearers of conservation and heritage across the country. A few such minds, whom we had the privilege of meeting recently at a gathering, were hopeful about the education system and the need to garner interest among coming generations to grasp the present scenario.
In a city like Mumbai, this concern becomes even more immediate. Here, heritage sites and buildings are under constant threat on a daily basis in the name of development from all quarters. It will be left to coming generations to ensure that the city's rich heritage and legacy is in good hands for (dare we say) centuries to come.
Ahmedabad's elevation can be a start. Let's hail the news, but also act upon it before the momentum fades away.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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