Last week, a handful of heritage lovers (yours truly included) in the city did a leap of joy with the news that Mumbai’s proposal — the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensemble along with the Oval Maidan — had made the trip to Paris for a dossier check, as one of the nominations for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The evaluations will continue till November as Mumbai’s case, along with Delhi’s and countless other global contenders, will undergo a thorough check by the powers that be.
It’s a small step, but a definitive one, nevertheless, for Mumbai to be out there — staking its claim for a third, and much deserved World Heritage Site, after the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Elephanta Caves. While this newspaper reported on the news in its October 2 edition, it was met with plenty of excitement, Facebook likes, et al — you know the drill. But from experience, and as has been the norm, in a few days’ time, public memory of this development will fade away.
Come January-end 2014, and the Union Ministry of Culture will have to decide between Delhi and Mumbai as the lone nomination to represent the country.
Every country can send one nomination only. It will be a tough call, and irrespective of which side the decision goes, we as citizens of this great city, should continue to view our urban heritage with a sense of pride. It’s a belief, which sadly seems amiss, among many of our citizens.
Often at social dos and public events including book readings, one has been party to comments where talk veers to this particular aspect of our city.
Typically, we (Mumbai) are sized up against “great London” or “stunning Barcelona”, even “mystical Beijing”. But when it comes to Mumbai, the collective sighs are almost unanimous. Often, these so-called well-travelled, people of the world, have no clue about the breathtaking mix of architectural styles, planning marvels and visionary designs that went into creating the city. Instead random terms and names are dropped based on hearsay, social media mentions, to hide ignorance of their own city’s marvels.
Barring a few strong voices in its favour, rarely does one come across a sense of prestige and respect in hard-selling the city’s wonders and praising its grandeur on the world tourist map. Apathy and dismal conditions about its sights and sounds are the usual catchwords at such gatherings. Suggestions like “You should drop by the David Sassoon Library” or “Walk down Ballard Estate to gaze at its well laid out buildings, and don’t miss the decadent yet ornate Port Trust Memorial” are almost never heard. Instead, you’ll come across a trail of options on how to savour the soul of London’s Greenwich area or New York’s lesser-known boroughs. Get the drift?
Yes, our heritage is in dire need of more than a facelift, and yes, we need to respect these reminders of a great city. But if our citizens lack a sense of belonging for Mumbai, and hardly seem keen to learn about and thereby, wear a sense of pride for their city as its ambassadors, pray, then who will?
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY