Preserve history

With the collapse of a 120-year-old building in Mysore an important part of our heritage has been irretrievably lost.

Lansdowne building was a victim of neglect. With neither civic authorities nor those renting it willing to pay for its restoration and maintenance, it could not survive the ravages of time. Heavy rains that lashed Mysore last week dealt a blow to its already weakened structure. Four people were killed in the building’s collapse. The fate of Lansdowne building symbolises our collective lack of respect for our heritage. This is not an isolated incident. Builders routinely mow down old buildings, caring little for their history. Greed for the land on which these buildings stand – they are usually in the old parts of cities and thus in the central neighbourhoods – motivates their callous actions. During the monsoon of 2010, Ahmedabad’s old city witnessed the collapse of scores of heritage buildings. Civic authorities did not have a clue of the wealth that had been washed away. In their eyes, a few ‘unsafe buildings’ had collapsed.

Thanks to our ignorance of the true value of our old, classic and traditional buildings and the apathy of authorities, India’s history and heritage is being lost. It is not that money is not being poured into restoration. Millions of rupees are spent on old buildings but it is only the façade that is often restored; the structure and foundation often goes neglected. Changes are made to buildings with little sensitivity for the aesthetics or style they represented. Material used in the original construction was mindful of local weather but modern restoration often results in use of material with little thought to local conditions. This makes many restored structures more vulnerable to the natural elements.

We need to understand that havelis are not just dilapidated houses but living museums. They are gifts of the past that need to be preserved for future generations. The government needs to summon the will and the imagination to protect these priceless parts of our history. Many Indians would be willing to volunteer to participate in the restoration of heritage buildings. The government must rope in every one of these enthusiastic lovers of India’s history, provide them with training and involve them in restoration work. The fate of Lansdowne building should serve as a wake-up call.    

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