Aneet Kanwal Randhawa
One has to break the mundane to enter the realm of the interesting. I recently had the opportunity to meet a heritage conservationist. I had a rudimentary idea about what her field was all about, but it was an eye-opening experience to learn about a wide array of fields it encompasses.
As a nation, we have been a witness to a spectacle of our decaying heritage without doing much about it. A lot of our heritage has been irretrievably lost. A lot of it is in comatose stage, yearning for saviours. And that is where the conservationists come into the picture. The ‘colossal wreck, boundless and bare’ among the ‘lone and level sands’ is made to come alive again with their expertise and is preserved for posterity.
Restoration of ancient monuments is one of the important aspects of the field but it also encompasses archival photographs and document restoration, restoration of clothing of heritage value, restoration of wall paintings and much more. A conservationist has to be a bit of a historian, an architect and a civil engineer. The focus should be on restoring the originality sans any additions or alterations.
A substantial part of our heritage overlaps with faith. So, a sensitive mind is also one of the unstated qualifications of a conservationist. Some items may have sacred value for a particular community, and as a consequence require careful handling. In this context, hearing the experiences about the restoration of wall paintings of Sri Harmandir Sahib and Chola Sahib of Guru Hargobind, which he had adorned when he was freed from the Gwalior prison, were particularly enlightening. The conservationist had to work under the roving eye of people associated with the faith and eventually win over their suspicions.
It may sound alluring to be a heritage conservationist, and yet, like any other field, it has its own pitfalls. A substantial part of our heritage is possessed by the government, and so, a conservationist cannot escape its apathy. There are irrational comparisons when a restoration project is to be allotted. The comparison on the basis of turnover of firms is one such bizarre rationale. The field is about expertise and a monetary base for comparison is unjustifiable. Another lamentable fact is that there is no uniform government policy to decide what is to be restored. Quite often, political considerations decide if it has to be a temple, church or a gurdwara.
But despite the pitfalls and the costs incurred on them, heritage conservationists are doing yeoman service. They have an intangible worth. Much attention should be paid to crumbling edifices, peeling plasters, brittle documents and fading wall paintings before they are written off their mutilated existence. An expert hand of a conservationist can make them come alive again. May his tribe increase.
Source Link: https://www.tribuneindia.com