I. What is Heritage?
The notion of heritage invoked in the context of Hyderabad brings to mind static images of a brilliantly illuminated Charminar, manicured photos of the Purani Haveli and postcard images of the grand Golconda Fort. It is a notion that fixes itself on monuments as anachronisms, that privileges places over people, sites that have accidentally survived and have no connection to our contemporary existence. However, there can be a very different understanding of heritage. Besides the post-card images and lightshows dedicated to the spectacular monuments, there are artefacts from a city’s past which find themselves still immanent in the everyday life of the city. These artefacts could be neighbourhoods or markets, or monuments that lend character and a wealth of anecdotes to certain localities. They could also bear architectural lessons for a field of endeavour that now, quite impractically, privileges multi-storeyed glass boxes over structures that are built with consideration for their function and their environment. Do Din sought to renounce the passive consumption of heritage as a ‘museumized’ product and instead, to encourage an approach to heritage which involves respect towards and willingness to engage with places and their inhabitants.
II. The Panel:
Debashish Nayak is a leading architect and heritage advisor of India. He is the director of the Centre for Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University and adviser to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s heritage cell.
Anuradha Naik is a conservation architect and architectural historian based in Hyderabad who has also undergone international training in conservation of ancient buildings. She is currently involved in a number of conservation and architectural history research projects in Hyderabad. Among her previous assignments is project coordination for the City Museum in Purani Haveli, dedicated to the people of Hyderabad. She is also part of several other initiatives.
1. Drainage – Sewage – Heritage
Debashish Nayak began his talk with the above quip regarding attitudes towards heritage. Besides the witticism, the sequence “drainage, sewage, heritage” is also highly illustrative. It’s a lament on how the history of a city is sought to be discarded as waste. Old structures are viewed as the debris of history waiting to be swept away by the wave of modern techno-parks, metro-rails and gated communities. Debashish says that the intention to preserve old buildings is not just to admire them, but to understand how those built environments animated the lives of people. In Hyderabad’s “old city” there are, in fact, many old structures that still influence the lives of people. He says it is important to pick up the small stories from these locales and then construct a notion of heritage that takes into account a history that concerns itself with the relationship between people and places.
He then introduced the remaining session by drawing an interesting contrast between Ahmedabad, where he has done a lot of successful conservation work and Hyderabad, where bureaucratic complications had prevented him from doing anything. He said that while Gujarat has no forum for public discussions and reflection, and the virtues of that fact can be debated, things get implemented there. Whereas, in Hyderabad, there is a lot of discussion, but things don’t get done. He therefore invited the audience to take this session at Do Din as the opportunity to discuss and discuss how to get things done.
2. The Cyclical Development of Hyderabad
Anuradha Naik began her talk with a presentation of a series of maps that she has developed for the city museum located at the Purani Haveli. Through these maps she sought to bring out a very interesting thesis regarding the history of Hyderabad. The 7 maps she presented were snapshots of Hyderabad across 7 erstwhile periods. The maps showed the Golconda fort emerging on the trade route between Aurangabad and Machlipatnam. This was followed by a map of the Hussain Sagar which was built in the 13th C. Unlike most other lakes, it does not predate the other buildings. Hyderabad was originally Chichlam Village. The Qutubshahis came to grow into it. Baags (gardens) and lakes were very important to them. Hyderabad was thus, initially a planned garden suburb. It only became a city about 100 years later, with the development frontier stretching south of the Musi. Traders gradually came to inhabit the city because it fell on the trade route. 1796 is when the British Residency came in. They built their campuses to the North of the Musi now taking the frontier northwards. In the early 19th C, three villages in Secunderabad, farther north and to the east, gave way to a British cantonment, the largest outside of Britain. In the late 19th C, the Nizam decided to move from Purani Haveli to King Koti, taking even the seat of power north-wards. In the 20th century, post-Musi-flood, the importance of the trade route reduced with the coming in of the railways to the area. There were stations in Nampally and Secunderabad. From 1943 onwards, the residential colonies came up slightly west of Hyderabad and the Banjara Hills were built upon. Developments were largely to the north of the river and along the north-western frontiers of the city. With the airport relocated to Shamshabad to the south of the river, the frontier of the city has returned to the South in a full circle.
3. Heritage as a Community Good
The presentation of the maps was followed by an interactive session where Anuradha quizzed the audience on their knowledge of Hyderabad’s heritage sites. In the process she revealed the rich histories of several lesser-known sites. The discussion also focused on what should be the approach towards protecting heritage? The criticism of heritage preservation that accuses it of being an elite concern was acknowledged and addressed. Anuradha invoked two examples to argue instead that heritage is a community concern, cross-cutting economic strata. Firstly, she brought up the example of a kamaan at Moula Ali that faced demolition. Seeing her appeal in the Siyasat Daily, a concerned local got in touch with her to protect the monument. He was a man of modest means, but having grown up in the locality he felt attached to the monument and almost single-handedly worked towards protecting and restoring it. She invoked a second example of the Chowmahala Palace which was restored through a combination of private initiative and the specialized skills of lime-workers which are rarely recognized. The residents of Bholakpur, Chand and Azad, also gave an example of an old structure that was protected through community mobilization in their area. Anuradha’s counter-argument of heritage as a community good rather than an elite concern was well taken. In his closing comments, Debashish, drawing on his vast experience in the field of heritage protection warned that while private initiative can go a long way in achieving its objective, it can only flourish if the government has supportive policies. For instance, restoration projects can be quite expensive and only the government can ensure that these projects receive loans to fund them.