Humayun’s Tomb restored, but what about Delhi’s other marvels?
History needs both memory and maintenance, but does it also need beautification? If the latest mission undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is anything to go by, some of the Capital’s landmark historic sites might be in line for a brick-and-mortar spa session! When last week’s ravaging dust storm took a toll on Delhi’s crown, Humayun’s Tomb, and damaged its dome finial, Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), along with the ASI, decided to restore the lightening conductor and position it atop the dome to mark the end of a 17-year-long restoration project.
Humayun’s Tomb, one of the best representation of Mughal architecture that Delhi can offer, has long suffered dereliction. Lashes of time left its gardens worn, its masonry cracked and the stonework broke. But for those delighting in ruin photography, the dilapidated appearance of one of Delhi marvels resulted in fewer visitors and even lesser revenue.
It was then that the ASI and the AKTC, with co-funding from Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, agreed to conserve and restore this ‘world heritage site’. Some years back, the ASI had tried going solo with the project. But, it made a mess of it when it tried slapping a million kilos of cement on the monument’s walls and built pathways of concrete! Visual hideousness aside, that was a lot of history choking on itself!
Naturally, cement and concrete had to be removed from a 16th century heritage building. ‘The problem is that any restoration undertaken by anyone does not focus on bringing back the original look of the structure. The focus is instead on repairing what is needed at that point in time,’ rues Archana Saad Akhthar, Programme Officer with AKTC.
Yet, if there’s one thing India can shamelessly boast about, it’s an ‘illustrated’ past dating back to 3000 B.C., documented in more than 3,500 monuments spread all over the country. The Capital itself is home to three UNESCO world heritage sites.
With most of its 174 monuments in a rundown condition, Delhi needs an immediate architectural attention. Millennium Post posed a question to Archana Akhtar, Ram Rahman, a photojournalist, and Sohail Hashmi, historian and heritage activist. We asked how many of the heritage sites need restoration on an urgent basis, and the unanimous reply was, ‘All of them!’ One cannot specifically say whether it is the Qutub complex that needs restoration more or the wells in Hauz Khas Village or Mehrauli.
According to Sohail Hashmi, ‘The problem is that heritage is nobody’s concern. For instance, there are ten listed structures inside the Golf Club (in Delhi). Over time, even they would be buried inside it. And when I went there, I saw that two of them are being used to store brooms!’
Hashmi tells us how the baoli (step-well) in Red Fort, believed to date back to the Tughlaq-era, came under the control of Indian Army and then the CRPF once the British left. ‘When handed over to the ASI in 2002, they saw that the baoli had been converted into a garbage dump. It took three years for ASI to clean that dump yard,’ said Hashmi.
When history’s safekeeping lies in the hands of an underfunded and severely understaffed organisation, little else can be expected. It’s telling the ASI is headed not by an archaeologist but a bureaucrat, even though the office is located inside Safdurjung Tomb premises.
‘Conservation must become a mindset,’ says Akhthar. ‘Restoration has to be a part of each and every person that visits these monuments. It must strike him/her while writing their names on the walls or throwing their empty water bottles in the gardens. True conservation would begin then,’ she concludes.