mid-day editorial: March to the future, but don't neglect the past

Mumbai found a slice of its history in the most unexpected way as workers carrying out road maintenance near Flora Fountain unearthed the city’s old tram tracks over the weekend. It was nostalgia time for the city, as the salt-and-pepper set reminisced about the two Anna-four Anna days when the 109-year-old tram would chug through what was still Bombay.

The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking promised to restore and preserve part of the tracks and keep them on display at its museum at Anik depot. At the same museum, BEST already has a single-deck tram coach that has been lying in shambles for decades.

No restoration was undertaken and the coach lies rusted, its tyres punctured and overhead equipment and cables in tatters. While a BEST representative stated that the tram was beyond restoration, it should have been repaired as much as possible. This tram stands as a symbol of the casual way we treat our history and heritage. From brushing off the historical gargoyles that were damaged during some work at CST station, to the shoddy condition of a number of heritage structures across the state, we have shown an appalling lack of respect for our past.

Activists are perennially locked in battle with powerful lobbies, either to push for the conservation of heritage structures or to prevent alterations that could substantially change their character. It is an uphill and soul-searing process dealing with the powerful and fighting with all your might to preserve the few pieces of history that are so important to Mumbai. Defaced monuments are a painful but common sight here.

Yet, it is not just the authorities who are to blame. Citizens need to develop a much more robust consciousness when it comes to heritage. Whether it is through documentation of history or by actively preserving it, we must cherish our rich past. These are not moth-eaten, decrepit pieces of nostalgia but repositories from which we can learn so much.

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