mid-day editorial: Burying our history is a king-size error

Heritage enthusiasts and art lovers would have cringed at the front-page report in this paper yesterday, which highlighted how a statue of King George V has been languishing in a Public Works Department (PWD) shed.

This piece of Mumbai’s history lies stowed away in a decrepit shed behind Elphinstone College in Fort, waiting to find its rightful place in a museum. It was removed from its original address opposite the Gateway of India during the statehood movement in the 1960s, and has since been replaced by a Shivaji statue. Crafted by pre-Independence sculptor Rao Bahadur GK Mhatre, the statue is now being sought by the artist’s great-grandson Dr H Pathare and a historian called S Dahisarkar. All they want is to give it a respectable home which is a museum. The report stated how Dahisarkar has visited the shed several times, and written to civic authorities and the PWD to extricate the statue, but in vain.

The report is indicative of the shabby way we treat our history, of just how difficult it is to get the system to move when it comes to heritage. The buck is passed to different departments, responsibilities keep shifting, heritage committees may be unresponsive because of political interference – the roadblocks keep piling up until even the most persistent petitioner is enervated and defeated.

When it comes to history, and its documentation and preservation, our mindset as a nation needs to change. So many of Mumbai’s heritage structures are in a state of disrepair and neglect. They all seem to be mired in red tape. Activists have often spoken about numerous hurdles facing them when they try to preserve the character or flavour of existing heritage buildings during repairs and redevelopment. Even the people need to have a basic civic sense and a respect for heritage structures.

History is not something to be relegated to cobwebbed corners, nor is it a matter too niche for us to care about. The past is our compass, it shows us the direction we’ve come from and where we’re heading. It gives us joy and teaches about our roots. All it deserves is a little respect.

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