Need to preserve our past

S Madhusudhana Rao

Osmania General Hospital (OGH), the 90-year-old iconic structure in Hyderabad, will go into oblivion if Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has his way. For some time, the 850-bedded college-hospital has been structurally ailing. Now, it has come to a stage where either the building has to be renovated or demolished for safety reasons. If nothing is done, one of the city’s landmarks facing the Musi riverfront is said to start crumbling, putting the hospital staff and patients at risk.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

According to reports, KCR has directed the medical authorities to begin vacating the in-patient block within a week and distribute various departments functioning under one roof to other government hospitals. It’s a different issue how efficaciously the scattered departments work and coordinate their activities. How much inconvenience such arrangement will cause to thousands of patients is obviously not taken into account. Plans are afoot to build towers in place of OGH after its demolition to house a brand new hospital on the roughly six-acre area the present complex sits.

When the plan was mooted a few months ago, heritage activists in the city had made a hue and cry and again they are up in arms opposing the move. They want either the Indo-Saracenic structure left intact after necessary renovation or a new hospital complex built without disturbing the present building. Either way, the beautiful building needs urgent repairs that may cost a lot of money because renovation has to be done as authentically as possible using the same materials that had been used a century back.

The cost factor may be weighing heavily on the government’s head if it decides to preserve one of the important structures of Nizam era. An easy way out is to demolish the heritage building and raise modern multi-storeyed structures to house a bigger and better-equipped college-hospital.

No doubt, we can’t cling to the past forever. Old has to make way for the new and we have to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for change. But, if we start discarding everything old for the sake of creating something new, we are cutting off our roots with the past. As the saying goes, there is no future if we bury the past and nothing will remain for the future generations to see, admire and appreciate if no trace of earlier periods was left.

Generally, heritage tag is given to monuments and other structures with historical, architectural, cultural and religious importance. Even if they are not given, it is important to preserve our past for posterity without harming the structures and maintaining them with utmost care. Their demolitions and destruction are tantamount to erasing physical evidence of our history. Wherever it is done, such acts draw widespread condemnation.

In any case, collectively, we have little respect for the old — people or physical structures. Once their usefulness is over, they are treated like dirt. In contrast, in other countries, particularly in the West, they go out of their way to save and preserve anything old that is valuable and important and take pride in showing it off to outsiders. It’s amazing to see forts, palaces, bridges, etc are well preserved and interiors are redone to reflect the old glory. Sadly, such spirit is lacking in this country.

In fact, our heritage is one of neglect and vandalism. Sometime back, a report in a local daily about the upkeep of Charminar, the iconic monument of the city of Nawabs, had brought into focus how badly our heritage sites were being maintained. Not only Charminar but most of the monuments in Hyderabad are a neglected lot. Even foreign cultural conservationists bemoan why we delink ourselves from the past. It is happening not only in Hyderabad but everywhere else in the country.

A common sight at these sites is graffiti, piles of rubbish and garbage and unclean surroundings.  Why do people take great pleasure in writing their names on walls with chalk? Some pour out their love inscribing hearts and arrows with girl friends’ names as if they want to immortalize themselves. Some, not satisfied with writing with chalk, inscribe their names and date of their visit on stone walls.

None appears to object to the wanton defacement or make any attempt to prevent those who are indulging in such acts. Temples, ancient monuments and heritage structures are all victims of irrational and insane behavior. Can’t they leave our heritage intact? Do they feel some kind of itch to spoil our cultural heritage when they enter the premises? India is the only country where people have little respect for the past glory.

While great museums have been built to conserve the country’s past for posterity and monuments are preserved and protected, hardly any such thing is done in this country. While others take great pride in preserving their ancient culture and heritage, we adopt a cavalier attitude which, unwittingly, reflects in our behavior.

Otherwise, how can one explain the commercialization of temple premises? In many great shrines of South India, temple extensions have been encroached upon and small businesses opened, ruining the beauty, let alone the shrine’s sanctity. While authorities and trusts in charge of the temples turn a blind eye to holy businesses, devotees too don’t bother as long as their wishes are fulfilled.

In some areas, tall structures are built abutting the ancient monuments and roads in the vicinity are widened threatening the survival of structures. Except murmurs of protest from conservationists, the public generally maintains deafening silence.

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