Fiona Fernandez: Calling young history evangelists
The present crop of bright minds ought to step in to spread awareness about Bombay's rich urban histories and make it 'cool' for coming generations
The frame couldn't have been more apt as the rain gods went into overdrive on a July afternoon. There they were — a group of die-hard city lovers — mostly middle-aged, old and the very old. They had braved the torrential rain to show up at the multi media room in St Xavier's College for the annual seminar in the 40th year of the Bombay Local History Society (BLHS) that coincided with the 150-year celebrations of the prestigious college. But above all, they were there, I think, to celebrate Bombay.
They were the true survivors and soldiers of Bombay's urban history movement. Looking around the room, I spotted a few familiar faces — some have been active participants at heritage walks and talks; then, there were keepers of the city's treasures — from collectors and history professors to chroniclers, and finally, the faceless ones, who always showed up at any place and time where the city's history and heritage was being discussed and deliberated. In fact, some members of the audience were even part of a heritage walk at St Thomas Cathedral in the first half of the day.
As the session got underway, important voices from the society as well as the college principal spoke of its origins and how the very crux of its existence was to explore the urban, local history of the city, which rather surprisingly, until then had very little representation and documentation. Later, illustrious alumnus reminisced about their college years and how it shaped their lives and careers. It was engaging and informative. Interestingly, history was the underlying factor that bound their sessions.
Throughout, this bunch of history buffs, the most attentive section of the audience, I must add, latched on to every word, nodded, smiled, laughed and exchanged notes. It was an observation exercise like none other. These Bombaywallahs were in their element, in one of their favourite settings, and listening about their favourite topic. A few days earlier, as we learnt of the upcoming seminar, we also happened to come across its membership numbers. It wasn't as reassuring as we would have expected for the noble cause that it represented.
And so, on that day, when we spotted the same group and the same faces, the pieces of the puzzle came together. The society needs a renewed thrust of participation, particularly from students and young professionals who can take the intent and the legacy of its work to a larger network and space. This becomes even more necessary because in our country, we are still more likely to hear a student say "history is boring" than the opposite. Where tablets and iPhones rule over textbooks and real-time conversations, awareness about the world around us, like the urban history of our city, becomes more of a Herculean challenge. Which is perhaps why only the young are best equipped to make that difference by pitching in and taking this legacy of forward.
But on that rainy Saturday, all wasn't lost as the seminar drew to a close. Sipping on pudina chai in the corridor of the historic Gothic-inspired building, I spotted an octogenarian heritage buff sharing anecdotes about the Bombay of yore with a teenaged collegian. Did the penny drop? We hope so. It was a befitting frame as we walked away from a session that we were privileged to be a part of.
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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