Our heritage is the singular reason for which the world comes to India: Anuraag Saxena
If you are a ’90s kid, visuals from one particular episode of RK Narayan’s TV adaptation of Malgudi Days will flash across the mind — The narrative was based somewhere in rural India during British Raj; a foreigner asks a local about a horse sculpture placed in a public space, and ends up buying it for merely a few notes from that local. The episode was a satire on the Indian state of things where people hardly valued country’s heritage. but time’s have changed.
Meet Anuraag Saxena, an activist, author, and founder of India Pride Project (IPP) – a citizen’s group that aims to bring back India’s stolen or pilfered heritage. On his recent visit to Delhi, Saxena shared about the significance of his work, in the backdrop of his memories of Delhi from the 90s.
I was pursuing my chartered accountancy in Delhi in the ’90s, and would spend a bit of time here at Urgasen ki Baoli… At that time there used to be literally just five people here on any day. I would sit there, at that spot, and read a book,” says Saxena as he visits the Baoli again with us, and credits the place for aiding him to clear CA in one go. “This and Shakuntalam (Theatre) at Pragati Maidan were a few places back then that were peaceful. Otherwise Delhi mei it’s impossible to find peace,” he adds.
Later he moved to the US for further education, and is now settled in Singapore. And while he went away from his homeland, the distance brought him closer to his culture in ways more than one. “If you leave India and go visit elsewhere, you can’t help but notice how much pride everyone takes in their heritage. You can’t help but notice that 60 years old General Macarthur’s House (in the US) has an audio tour available supported by pictures, to give the visitors an idea of his life story. In India, you have buildings which are 600 years old that are lying unattended. That’s our problem — we don’t realise that our heritage is the singular reason for which the world comes to India. They don’t come to see our ring road or malls, they come for our heritage. America me jitney Dunkin’ Donuts hai utne India me you’ll find some or the other heritage location. It could be a fort, mandir, church or a baoli.” And that realisation motivated him to start IPP in 2013. “So, IPP is a way of reminding people that these spaces and symbols both were an integral part of our life for good reason, which we have now forgotten,” says Saxena, who has made #BringOurGodsHome and #SaveOurGods popular on social media.
“So here’s the world respecting our heritage that we don’t respect! Historically, what our ancestors have left us, our heritage is the most tangible forms of it,” says Saxena, elucidating that his initiative isn’t just a religious endeavour to bring back idols of Gods. “The reason we call it IPP is because these are symbols of our pride. If you ask any other national about India, they associate it with some sort of heritage primarily; so this is symbolic of our pride. Also, it’s a matter of pride for the nation that we are now in a geo-political position of strength where we are now able to fight or negotiate with the Western developed countries to bring back what is ours. And, at some level it’s a matter of pride for indigenous communities as well to see their gods come back home. A lot of urban readers might not appreciate this... [for instance] if you and I have to meet, we’ll meet at a mall or a theatre. However, in most towns and villages in India, the temples have been their only community space. And I’m not talking of it from a religious angle at all. Woh toh hai hi, but temples is where people congregate and chat, farmers sell their produce, weavers sell textiles… Now, when you take a deity out of a temple, nobody has anything to go back to a temple. And that really tears the social fabric of a village. Imagine in Delhi, if you took away all the public spaces, or community spaces, so there’s no CP (Connaught Place), no mall, no restaurant, everyone would literally sit at home and there’s no way people will learn and appreciate each other.”