’Art & Soul

A thought for the past

The conservation work that Aga Khan Foundation has carried out on Humayun’s Tomb and its neighbourhood in Delhi is outstanding

A thought for the past

Work on the tomb of Jamshed Quli Qutab Shah in progress AND (right) Restoring lime plaster in the tomb.

BN Goswamy

Whether through neglect or wilful destruction, the disappearance of the physical traces of the past deprives us of more than memories. Spaces that embody historic realities remind us of the lessons of earlier eras. …Heritage is today in jeopardy. What, then, of the deeper values that we risk abandoning under the dust of our own indifference or that might be crushed to rubble by our own destructive force?

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There are pragmatic reasons (direct employment to workers and skilled craftsmen; attraction for tourists; more opportunities for residents) for revitalising a nation’s cultural assets. But, equally, and perhaps more importantly, these activities restore and preserve historic identity. …Heritage is for the world to cherish. — Aga Khan

How, it can be asked, does one go about conserving and, where possible, restoring, all of the great architectural heritage that we have in this vast land of ours? The sheer scale is daunting: thousands of old structures have crumbled under the weight of time and neglect; memories of the past have not only faded but got buried; just rubble, one can see, lies around on the ground as a reminder. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — that time-honoured institution founded as long ago as 1861 — has risen gamely to the task at places, and done admirable work: but not everywhere, for one sees every now and then monuments where the intensity and the vision needed for conservation work went wanting, and professionalism took a back seat.