Tribune News Service
Amritsar, July 26
Renowned conservationist Gurmeet Rai, who had carried out extensive conservation projects in the city, spoke about her association with the holy city, in an online session organised by the Majha House. She was accompanied by fellow panelist Urvashi Butalia and Jigna Desai as she spoke about the book, ‘Amritsar – A City in Remembrance’, a compilation of essays written on city’s heritage and history, edited by Gurmeet Rai and photographs by noted artist Raghu Rai.
The book has an essay titled ‘Partition: Memory and Memorialising’ by author Urvashi Butalia. Talking about the story behind her heart-rending essay, Urvashi said, “It is difficult to imagine the mental anguish of a person, who had to murder 17 members of his own family to save them from the torture and humiliation and pain of the fanatics who saw ‘others’ as their worst enemies. With tears in his eyes, he told me that this soil contained blood of his family members and it is here that he has started a new life. My essay also talks about pain and anguish that brings people together and makes them one despite their enmity.”
Jigna Desai, an Associate Professor and programme chair for Master’s in Conservation and Regeneration, CEPT University, and also the Executive Director of the Centre for heritage conservation, who has contributed the essay ‘The City that Doesn’t Forget’, said there are so many narratives related to the city which unfold the rich history of place and people.
Talking about the architectural changes that are taking place in the city such as the Galiyara Project, the Heritage Street, Gurmeet said, ‘Modern changes in an architecturally-rich city like Amritsar can make conservationists like us very angry. But then you have to take it all with a pinch of salt where you cannot do anything.’ She said the locals and the conservationists feel deeply that the rich culture, a highlight of Amritsar, is being compromised. “Conserving buildings in a state such as Punjab can be doubly taxing due to the government’s apathy, lack of appreciation of culture and heritage and their ‘modern’ ideas. When I was given the charge of the restoration of the Gobindgarh Fort, it was given to me in a piecemeal manner. I simply could not do this so I had to rush to the government officials with files containing my ideas and arguments against this narrow outlook,” she shared.
She said she strongly believes that people should be given a chance to come forward and contribute to the cause. She shared that when they were working on the restoration of the gates in Amritsar, they floated the idea of making libraries there so people could sit and enjoy and appreciate the heritage and beauty they are part of. “Everyone loved the idea and many volunteered with their help and resources. But sadly, it all got tangled in red tape.”