Kyon nahin deewar-e-dil pe apna aur unka naam likhte ho?
Ye zaroori toh nahin ke ulfat ki iss tarah numaish ho
— Ravish Siddiqui
THIS couplet, written in Urdu at the entrance to a historical monument at Bijapur (Karnataka), is translated thus: Why don’t you write your and your beloved’s names on the wall of your heart/Rather than exhibit them blatantly?
Wherever you go in India to visit a monument, you see the walls desecrated with assertions of undying love inside a badly drawn heart and an arrow. Why this vulgar itch to let the world know that you are a lover par excellence? You see such eyesores even on the outer walls of Taj Mahal, one of the greatest monuments in the world.
Despite requests, reminders and warnings, there are people who just can’t refrain from indulging in this obnoxious pastime to leave their ‘romantic legacy’ for generations to come. During my visits to Mohenjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan’s Sindh province, I did not spot such graffiti. I asked the caretaker how come people of his country were sensible enough not to write anything on the walls of historical places. He told me that Field Marshal Ayub Khan had passed a strict order back in the 1960s that whoever defaced the walls (of monuments) would have to erase the names first and then undergo imprisonment for a minimum six months. He or she would also be lashed. The fear of the slammer and the lashings forced the ‘great lovers’ to exercise restraint, he said.
This made me wonder whether there was any punishment for vandals and ‘enemies’ of beautiful creations in India. ‘In India, no one cares how to behave in a historical place. They treat such places as picnic spots,’ observed English travel writer Trevor Fishlock in his travelogue in 1997. He was absolutely right. Whether it’s Charminar of Hyderabad or Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, no place is spared by miscreants and casual visitors. People eat, spit and throw away plastic bags and leftovers in the vicinity of the monuments.
In 2019, I saw a couple of history students from a reputed college in Delhi stealthily plucking roses from the Taj Mahal complex. If ‘educated’ people indulge in such activities at a historical place of international repute, how can we expect others to act responsibly while visiting these sites? More than forcing them to behave properly, it’s imperative to realise on one’s own that every monument is a national treasure which belongs to every individual. When foreigners can be so respectful of our monuments, why can’t we emulate them and try to preserve the beauty and sanctity of these spots?
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