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When heritage could have made headlines

Updated on: 27 November,2023 01:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

The just concluded Heritage Week was a missed opportunity for city’s stakeholders to create a combined heritage-backed itinerary that could have initiated interest through outreach programmes across Mumbai

When heritage could have made headlines

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is a UNESCO heritage site

Fiona FernandezLast week, this columnist entered into old familiar territory (read: heritage walks). As part of pan India celebrations initiated by Goa Heritage Action Group’s (GHAG) to commemorate International Heritage Week, they had planned a cool initiative inviting individuals, including yours truly, and platforms dedicated to the cause of heritage awareness to plan walks and trails in their respective towns and cities across the country. We took a motley crew of willing accomplices on a Sunday morning for a trail to showcase the jewels around Horniman Circle.

By the time we had arrived at the famous steps of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, there were many other groups (unrelated to the Heritage Week platform) who were up and about, offering participants a slice of the city. Barely a few kilometres away, facing the Oval Maidan, we learnt later that another platform was highlighting the marvels of the Art Deco ensemble. And we heard from friends that while all this unfurled, there was an event for schoolkids at the Kitabkhana bookstore as well as a music session at Cooperage Bandstand. Over social media posts, we also discovered that other platforms held walks and events to commemorate the week.

Some weeks ago, this column had spoken about the lessons that the city can learn from Delhi, when it came to heritage walks; there, the community of organisers who conducted walks was a robust one that constantly thought out-of-the-box when it came to new plans, approaches and innovative trails. It was applause-worthy and made us feel inadequate that sufficient ground hadn’t been covered by our city folks.

This time, we did a silent, slow clap when we heard that the Goa-based platform, GHAG, has packed in a walk fest, where its itinerary read like a heritage nut’s dream -- from nature walks in tropical gardens, to trails within the city to educate residents and out-of-towners, also possibly, newer Panjimites to understand its fascinating origins. It was a solid effort, one that obviously required a dedicated set of minds to work around the clock. The icing on the cake, we thought, was that the November 19 all-India heritage walk plan turned out to be a success. Going by the social media posts showcasing walks—we countered over twenty—from all corners of the country, it made us smile to be a small part of this committed, informative exercise.

And like with most things, after the elation came the realisation. We had missed a golden opportunity in the city to make it a bigger reason to celebrate our local, urban heritage and use the week to host activities and information/outreach programmes across schools, colleges and other public forums. Imagine if all those platforms conducting walks  for younger people and grown-ups had all been roped in under a common umbrella for Heritage Week? Your guess is as good as ours about the possibilities that could have sprung up.  

The civic authorities were too busy tackling [or shall we say, trying to?] other pressing scenarios in the city, including engaging in watering the city, and hoping for the dust to eventually settle down [quite literally] on the high levels of air pollution that is becoming a new critical issue for us, Bombaywallahs, to combat.
But we’d like to know why the state’s education and tourism departments didn’t use this opportune moment to plan and undertake awareness programmes on a grander scale, and bring together all these heritage platforms to create a common itinerary. The larger the scale, the better chance it has to cover more ground, and reach out to more people. This period was post the Diwali break, and surely, interest could have been garnered to make people—especially schoolchildren, and the rest —more invested in the idea of heritage in their home city.

We read in the newspapers on a daily basis almost, where countless citizen groups are battling issues like fighting for green, open spaces. Many lose out due to ignorance or lack of support. More than half the city is at the mercy of redevelopment and the immediate fallout means a fast-changing landscape, such platforms could have mobilised and empowered people to be in sync with such eventualities. They could be taught to appreciate what still exists and also to realise that sensitive conservation of dated buildings is a possibility rather than pulling it down in the name of redevelopment.

A jointly drafted blueprint by key civic and heritage stakeholders could have been created to educate people about heritage site guidelines; a heritage mela could have been initiated [surely, we have space beyond coffee festivals and jewellery gigs]; an all-Mumbai school heritage quiz would become a fun annual affair; talks for adults and treasure hunts for young folks could have been on the itinerary—so many ideas, really.

Alas, the moment has passed. We can only hope that the city’s visionaries, like those hard-willed, resilient private citizens of Goa, join hands, and create a common vision and programme for a city that is blessed with a rich legacy. And then, hopefully, we can walk the talk. 

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

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