Heritage losing ground to practicality


Oh you marvellous blend of engineering and art.
Your beauty still shines through the thick veils of neglect and dirt.
Your expansive arched balconies must have turned wallflowers into prolific storytellers.
Your curves and edges must have put aesthetes into dreamlike spells.
I wonder why your master has let you languish and deteriorate,
To the state of a senile person counting his days.

O human of a different kind, why do you give me this adulation?
Commissioned I was to bring great business, revenue, and honour to my master.
Never was I meant to tickle the senses of  an artist or connoisseur.
And my objectives I have fulfilled with a faithful and unbreakable character.

But age has caught up with me now making me ail and wither.
And the winds of change have made the cures for my ailments rare and dear.
That any treatment will reinvigorate me, my master isn’t sure.
So the time has come for me to make way for the future,
The progeny is of a different character but of a potential that can deliver more than my master can desire.

So don’t you grieve o hooman, if you don’t find me on your next jaunt.
For I would have left having lived a fulfilling life of serving my all and desiring none.


Heritage structures in old localities are fast disappearing and the reasons, I gather, are purely practical. Like all things made by man, buildings too are not eternal. Though it is possible to maintain a building in great condition beyond its intended service period, doing so requires one to identify and procure near-extinct skill and materials. As a person who’s in constant touch with vintage motor vehicle collectors, I understand the effort and resources that need to be invested on a regular basis to maintain and run vintage machinery in the age of turn key systems.  It is not just effort and money that is required, but also a great deal of a passion and commitment to preserve this art and history.

The heritage structures of concern are commercial establishments from the British and post-independence eras. Their owners today are no different from their predecessors. They are prudent business people who understand things in terms of return on investment, market value and appreciation. Spending a fortune on machinery that produces only half the yield of that of its contemporaries is definitely not great for business.  And the practical solution is to replace the old structure with a contemporary one that is cost effective to maintain, has better space utilization, and generates more income per square feet.

Besides bringing awareness to the owners and public, there is little that people who care for heritage are able to do in the field. This is because the concerned properties are mostly privately held and the owners have no obligation whatsoever to heed to public appeals. The only way to protect these heritage structures, one would think, is to have the law or government intervene. But the heritage protection laws passed by the Madras High Court are riddled with loopholes that have only enriched the civic personnel and let the owners get their way. Read of what happened to the corporate office of Binny Mills and the D’Angelis Hotel (a.k.a Bosotto building) to get a picture of the level of seriousness adopted by the court and government to conserve the city’s heritage.

History shows that there is nothing that the collective will of people cannot achieve. Considering the current state of affairs, I sometimes wonder if there really is a serious willingness and impetus to save the city’s heritage. Are we each just ranting from our comfortable platforms, because we lack the courage to bring forth our resources and energies to a lopsided battle? What have we to lose after all? it is just an aspect of the past that is naturally losing its relevance in a futuristic era filled with breakthroughs of unimaginable proportions.






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