Heritage for starters

  • Oindrila Mukherjee, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 09, 2014 17:16 IST

The second day of Literati 2014 dawned bright and early, but without too much of the sun shining down on the festival crowd. In the shade of tall eucalyptus trees at the Lake Club, the first session commenced with a panel discussion on ‘Reinventing heritage’.

Noted film archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Chaman Lal, professor of comparative literature at the Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, conservationist Abha Narain Lambah and textiles expert Jaswinder Kaur, took part in this session that was moderated by educationist Suparna-Saraswati Puri.
Puri kicked off the discussion with the issue of how history had unfortunately been narrowed down into parameters, and how we as countrymen were not heritage proud. She said, “We Indians produce our heritage as swiftly as one would produce a visiting card, for the Western civilisation, but we have done nothing to preserve it or understand it.”

Revisiting history

The discussion took place in terms of preservation of Indian monuments, cinema, textiles and local crafts, and last but not the least, the rusted identity of Bhagat Singh over the ages.
Lambah said our nation was not a museum-going nation and blamed our education system for how history was being taught in schools. “Our post-colonial heritage is seen as monument-centric. Only 3,000 monuments have been listed with the Archaeological Survey of India. The focus lies too much in the fenced-off approach due to which the urban milieu feels disconnected from the monument. What we need is engagement with heritage and to open it up.”

Film preservation

Talking about the state of film preservation in India, Dungarpur said cinema had never been seen as something to preserve. “India made 1,700 silent films, but only five remain now. Most were lost by the 1950s,” he said. In a shocking example, he said Gulzar, after winning the Dadasaheb Phalke Award last year, called to organise a screening of his film ‘Maachis’ (1996), but there was no print available! He said the root problem was India did not consider cinema as an art form. After all, cinema was an expression of art in motion and there was a need to preserve every bit of film expression, he said.
Death of 'phulkari'

Jaswinder Kaur talked about the literal death of ‘phulkari’ in Punjab. Even here, there remain replicas of the commodification of ‘phulkari’, she said. Jaswinder said, “Punjab has lost out on many other local crafts, apart from the ‘phulkari’. These crafts are dying out. We must take a cue from states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan. If we can follow the Gujarat model for the economy, why not textiles?”
Bhagat Singh wore only white

Touching upon the preservation of historical personages, Lal said there was a respect for mythology, but contempt for history in India, and if Indians did not understand mythology with a rational mind, it could destroy the Indian mindset. Elaborating on the identity of Bhagat Singh in present India, he said, “Documentation is a great task when it comes to history. Most see Bhagat Singh as a man wearing a yellow turban, but never in his life did he wear any other colour apart from white.”

Concluding the session on the question of the future of heritage, Dungarpur said nothing could be resolved with the current education system in India, while Lambah said there was a lack of application of mind and urban planning to adjust heritage buildings into the newer scheme of things. Jaswinder lamented at the lack of museums in Punjab and a silent hush around the idea of the museum as a home for heritage. Though the question remained that if the youth associated the idea of a rebellious nature with Bhagat Singh, then why not his intellect too?

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