Fiona Fernandez: Writing on the wall

Nov 27, 2017, 06:13 IST | Fiona Fernandez

The recent episode where walls of an old Delhi building were defaced for a leading global sportswear commercial highlights the scant regard people here have for street heritage

How did a big, fat MNC go ahead and paint walls across a heritage neighbourhood in an urban centre for a commercial without being stopped in their tracks while the act was being done? Sitting far away from the scene of action that occurred in the National Capital, in front of our workstation, tapping away on our keyboard, we are as stumped as the next heritage-loving soul.

A defaced wall of an old building in Churiwalan in old Delhi
A defaced wall of an old building in Churiwalan in old Delhi. Swapna Liddle/Facebook

In a shocking disregard for Delhi's street heritage in an international sportswear brand defaced walls of an old building with graffiti for an advertisement campaign to celebrate street art culture across India. The campaign, titled Suede Gully, was shot in Churiwalan, off Chawri Bazar in old Delhi. Swapna Liddle of INTACH's Delhi chapter raised the issue first on Facebook, and to quote from her post, 'a heritage precinct with old buildings, was painted very inappropriately, causing permanent damage to the carved sandstone, fine limestone plaster, and lakhori bricks.'

She also spelt out that those who gave their nod for this ad didn't raise an issue while the 'artwork' was being carried out. The global sportswear and shoe brand jumped in to defend their actions citing that the owners didn't raise any objection and so they went ahead with the plan. The brand also assured that they would co-operate to restore the site to its original façade. Some news reports also carried the owners' views, where he admitted that he found it perfectly fine, as it cleaned up the place, adding colour to the neighbourhood. We're not quite sure, when and how the old walls will be restored to their glory, and in a sensitive manner. The case too, like so many of this kind, is bound to die down soon.

Such episodes come to light ever so often in our city as well. From the walls that house many of Bandra's quaint bungalows and villas to the interiors and exteriors of public landmarks that witness high footfalls every day, it's a struggle to keep them off limits from exposure to such elements - either willingly [as in the case of the advertisement campaign] or unknowingly, where such sites remain unattended, minus security. The Janjira fort, one of the most visited sea forts in Maharashtra comes to mind. For decades, its historic fortifications have been at the mercy of TV and film crews, who've made a mess of it. The last time, when we set foot on this Siddi-made landmark, it was in ruin with graffiti and litter was strewn all over, posing a serious threat to the site.

The episode in the National Capital might have easily been missed and the global super brand would have gotten away without as much as a rap on the knuckles had it not been for INTACH. How many more such Churiwalans keep happening right under our nose? We know the answer.

But at the end of the day, who will stand up and take the responsibility for tighter security of our heritage – especially spots that aren't in the public eye at all times? It's a thought that leaves us with an open question that if star attractions like the Taj Mahal is still facing humongous challenges, what chance does a 1940s-built bungalow off Chapel Road have. It all starts with awareness, doesn't it?

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 mailbag@mid-day.com

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