Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Bangalore's pretty old christmas-cake cottages are biting the dust like never before. People are moaning ceaselessly about important pieces of history being lost to the world forever every time one of them does.

People who've lived in them seem strangely dry-eyed though, having gone through a lifetime of dealing with rusty pipes, leaky roofs, stuffy kitchens and a 100 year accumulation of wild life in their cupboards.

The majority of us, however, just move on. We tut-tut when they go down, but happily waltz into the shiny modern apartments and malls that take their place. Is this an exclusively Indian phenomenon?

To ascertain this, I met up with a cheerful lady in in a diaphanous red saree for pani puri on 8th cross the other day. Her long flowing black hair was barely held in place by a crown of gold. She beamed at me in a most motherly manner, while using her tri-coloured flagstaff to pole-vault gracefully across a puddle to reach Rajanna's chaat trolley. After we ordered one masaaley and one pani sweet, we proceeded to converse thus:

"Vande mataram."

"Mataram vande, my child. Rajanna avre, solpa khara haaki." (Mr Rajanna, lay on the green chutney)

("Kottey! kottey..!") (Giving, giving)

"Maathey, why is the west so obsessed with preserving its architectural heritage, whereas we, as a nation, are largely unbothered?"

"Thoo some easy question ask I say."

"Well?"

"Seeee.. Western culture is visible and tangible and therefore needs to be preserved thus. India's is not. We look down our noses at everything ephemeral, such as brick, stone, life... and this pani puri. . gulp..

"I don't know about this really. It's lovely to say and all, but do we really believe this, deep down? How many of us are truly detached from life and the yen for aquisition?"

"Yen aa? Rupiss no?"

"Shh. No really, Even my thaatha, who'd say "Yennathai ozhachchu, paadu pattu, saaptu, thoongi.." (Whats the use of working, toiling, eating, sleeping..) was probably just saying it for effect. We're just complacent and unbothered, is what I think."

"True, but not necessarily in a bad way. We just don't see merit in preserving stuff that has outlived its value. What is not used crumbles to dust sooner or later. "

"As if. Just because you are Bharat Mata I should believe everything you say uh?"

"Hello I am new age Bharat mata. Bharat akka even. But look around you. The only Indian architecture that has been preserved culturally, is that which is still in use. Places of worship, government offices, rice-paddy terraces, etc. The rest of it - the forts of Rajasthan, the ruins of Hampi, the great baths of Mohenjo Daro - are all preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India, who probably do it out of sheer force of habit. I'm sure even the ASI wouldn't have been this gung-ho about preserving stuff, if it hadn't been formed in colonial times. "

"So why aren't we, as a culture, motivated enough to do it ourselves?"

"Boss I think we have our own ways of dealing with history and preserving our culture. We are not big on physical reminders. Our detatchment from material things has infact often been misunderstood as unbotheredness. History in my opinion (as new age Bharat mata), is meant to be learnt from and let go of."

"But Mummy Indie, our history is precious. How would we remember, if we don't have icons to represent it?"

"You don't need physical icons. Especially redundant ones. Besides, if all your ancestors were this hoity-toity about ringing out the old, you'd be sitting on 40 centuries of redundant architecture! Rulers regularly demolished and rebuilt entire kingdoms to suit their current needs. That's part of life. You can't expect an entire country to preserve 200 generations architectural heritage just because your highness wants iconic evidence of it! Maaad I say. Take pictures, make movies, document it, compose songs about it. Grumble about it if you want. These are Indian things to do."

"But can't we at least preserve the facades of our buildings and modernize the insides, like the west does?"

"Thats just silly. Why should a city look like it did 200 years ago, when everything about it has changed? It's like stuffing a dead pet. "

"Err I guess you have a point, but doesn't culture need an anchor? Something that stands as a reminder of its unique identity, something that will remain static over generations, for people to relate to?"

"An anchor can only be dropped when the sea is deep enough. The west has anchored itself on architecture that represents the zenith of its power, which it attained about 150 years ago. New India is only 60 years old after all, hasn't reached the peak of its power yet. I'd probably guess that buildings that survive 50 years after we reach our heyday, stand a greater likelihood of being preserved."

"So you're saying western preservation efforts are all about power in the end? And that India will start preserving icons that represent the peak of its power, whenever that happens?"

"That's what I'm saying."

"But hello, you're contradicting yourself. You just said we are culturally ephemeral and aren't into all physical reminders."

"Uff. Boss, India is land of contradictions. Leave off now. As it is I have a permanent headache with this stupid crown. Chumma don't eat my head and worsen it. Want to split one dahi puri?"

"Thank god you're pretty ma."

"Ei, suryanige torchaa? (For sun only torch showing aa?) When ledis-god only is standing in front of you, which other god you will thank I say? If you fools had drawn me a chappal, I'd have hit you with it, insolent fellow. Ri, ond dahi haaki." (Sir, put one dahi puri)

("Kottey! Kottey...!!")

20 comments:

Preeth said...

Very thought provoking angle to the 'should we keep the old glory' question. I still remember feeling bad when they brought down Elgin flour mills.

swalpa kara haaki - lol!!!

Anonymous said...

BikerDude

Even if we were to preserve our building be they colonial,
princely or Call Centers will preserving building preserve culture ?

Case in point the Smithsonian and many such similar institutions preserve a zillion artifacts thats represents Western (emmethikka ) "culture" ( I know .. heheh)
Then there are all these national parks .. monuments .. and what have you ..

And what culture is being preserved and assimilated by the generations that have come , be they baby boomer or Gen X.

Salutions to Indie Mama, long live
Pani Poori !

Culture lives on in slurping Pani poori


-A poor 'soul' awating cultural redemption at BSK Panipuri stall

Bit Hawk said...

Good one! Loved the idea of conversation near the pani puri angdi! :D

Poojitha said...

Bikedude...

an unxpected but a really worthwhile post from u.. :)

anyways...my opinion is tat instead of cribbing abt wats not happening..y cant we work on wat cud b dun... i agree with u tat culture in india, irrespective of d cities, is going downhill... isnt it d responsibility of evry person?? eventhough one isnt working for it...he/she can atleast b proud of the whats behind his culture...tats itself, i think, will induce a sense of responsibility in oneself and inturn, make d individual 2 work on it.... Hope i did make sum sense. :)...

Bikerdude said...

Preeth L Yep that was a pity, but seriously though, Im not sure what I'd do if someone says "oh Im sorry you feel so sad about it, here take keys to brand new apartment in Elgin Complex." :)

Anonymous: Kharrrect :)

Bit Hawk: Thanks buddy :) You have an awesome blog btw. And tubelight me just got the pun on "Bit Hawk" lol. Leg xerox to be giving instantly.

poojitha: you're right about people needing to be more proactive and proud, but I must disagree with you about culture as such in India declining. I think it has adapted itself to modern living, just like it has dont so many times in the past.

Harishhh said...

Delightful reading as always!! You never cease to astound me!! And it gets better with every post!

Thanks!!

Vasoooo said...

I always felt in india that culture adapts to age/new things very easily. May be that is the reason why there are a lot of things which were considered "old and out of fashion" 10 years back are coming back into the society.
We have this knack to morph old things into the new be it traditions, art or music.
Ofcourse as is the rule of hman life teh fittest and the easily adaptable survive-rest go off...

Spunky Monkey said...

While I agree with a city's need to constantly reinvent itself to adapt to a world that's changing faster than can be healthy, I am not for the en bloc removal of most heritage structures. After all, there is a reason to refer to them as "Heritage". If history were to be recorded on film and print alone, like a passage suggests, then what's the point in keeping a Harappa or a Mohenjodaro or a Petra. Take enough footage, raze the structures and build malls and housing complexes.
Idu swalpa dicey territory.

You got swalpa pedantic this time. But it's okay, I still like it.

Pani Poori rocks.
Who this Rajanna is, I want to eat Pani poori right now.

Naveen said...

guru...nin kaalelli swalpa thorsu..shevachchkyore :o)

very thought provoking, but guess that's all we can do about it...think (no action)..but as u said if anyone offers us a mod house/mall, bet most of us will jump at the oppurtunity!

i was very sad when i heard that the trees lining south-end circle's area were being cut down to give more space for METRO..i know we are talking abt buildings, but frankly that road was no less than any monument in my view!

L N Srinivasakrishnan said...

Awesome postu.

Banter-avaru, swalpa doubts clear maaDi :)

1. Mataram vande - vande mataram; where's this protocol from - salaam aleikum, aleikum salaam? Is this strictly Russell Market Kannada? Is it now available out of the box in Sampige Road?

2. Err whatever - initially by Kemp' auntie, then 'Err I guess you have a point' - by Banteravaru. What is Err? Is this tongue protector Tamil, by any chance?

3. Usage of 'suryanige torchaa' - are you implying Kemp-amma also expert at line maroing?

krupa said...

Very interesting topic and very well written!

RustyNeurons said...

This post was not one of those usual stuffs with high humor quotient - that I could just read them, laugh aloud and leave them there.
Like a comment somewhere above mentioned, the dilemma indeed is a real one – to let go or to preserve.
I guess heritages are some kind of reminders to our previous glory (yeah, just that) but, they could also be strong reminders of the gross mistakes that were committed.
Very well written.

Bikerdude said...

harish: Uyyo, thanks I say.. :) :)

vasoo: Aaha. Correct. I got lost somewhere but this is what I wanted to say :)

spunky: Yes dicey. Hence the imaginary exchange between metaphoric characters antha. One being conservationist malleswaram mama and the other one being the new age bharat mata. Rajanna chaataa- ba, thinsthene. Jotheyal ninna CTR dosegu convert maadsthene :)

Naveen: Yeah that was sad indeed, hopefully they'll re-plant, like they did elsewhere.

LNS: I didnt know the appropriate response to Vande mataram, so I borrowed from the middle east :)

Err = bodily reactions to eating too much battani-filled masalpuri

Kempamma = Indiamma. She is modern day India so knowing all manner of modern things. You follow? PS: Suryange torch doesnt necessarily involve line maroing. The meaning is something to the effect of carrying coals to newcastle.

krupa, rustyamma: thanks I say :)

Krish Ashok said...

Whatay post. Hats/Turbans/crowns off. Mummy Indie is a brilliant touch, and deserves a superheroine comic of her own.
As for preserving architecture, we Indians have one rule, I say. If buildings cannot preserve themselves for 1000 years, despite the "Bunty loves Pinky graffitti, pan, ruffles chips bags and atmospheric pollution", they are worth preserving I say. Look at the Tanjore temple. Still standing no. Really worth stuff will preserve itself I say. If it stands for 1000 years, then we can get the ASI on the job to add some cobwebs and a "ASI protected monument" board outside the building.

Rambodoc said...

Splendid.
The only common commentu left for me to use to describe your postu and the notu by noted Commentugaru KrishAshok.
If you go a bit easy on the Kannada it makes it easier for poor folks like me, but then, no matter, I will brave it for the greater kaas.

Thoppai Mama said...

Lae Nimm-aapra!

Heritage andra aen-anth kalee bekandra naDee-ri Kyoto, Japan-desh-daag!

Really, the enduring monuments in our land like Brhadeeshwara or Aiyaarappan (reading Balakumaran's Udaiyaar, thus the Tamizh rendition of Thiruvaiyaru's Panchanadeeshwara-r koil) have done so in spite of our take-it or leave-it approach to heritage. This might be largely because the material (granite) is eternal.

Kyoto on the other hand had all its buildings built of wood. In the inter-shogunate warfare they indulged in a lot of 'nunn baNavi sutt-ya magana, baa, ninn baNavi sud-theeni'. Thus a lot of old temples and palaces were lost. All these have been meticulously rebuilt, down to the last detail (deliberately creaky bamboo floors in the approach to hte king's bedrooms, anyone?).

The first world economies recognise that malls have their place, but never at the cost of heritage which has to especially be preserved.

I could go on and on about the preservation efforts around the world, but I will stop with Nurnberg (Nuremberg). Pliss to look up the reconstruction effort that the townsfolk took upon themselves after the allied bombings.

Nunn jathe heLi 'Heritage-ge jayavaagali'

anoushka taraporevala said...

thought provoking, i say. what a delight to read, as has been the case with all your previous posts. whether we preserve or we dont, what matters is that we keep our cities clean. and liveable. and that cannot be said to be true of the majority of our cities.

Anonymous said...

I love you.

(Okay, blush)

Anonymous said...

I love the chappal bit! Jai Bharat Mata!

This is the way I want to see her, not like some oh-so-pure-and-dumb-chick-beaten-and-exploited-through-the-centuries-first-by-moghuls-then-by-the-brits-now-left-to-gather-her-poverty-around-her-like-a-purdah-lying-in-shreds-around-her-while-her-children-blah-blah-blah-and-so-on-.....

Loveee it!

Bikerdude said...

KA: Youre absolutely right. India preserves anything that can preserve itself :P

rambodoc: saary boss, next time translations I will include

thoppai mama: aidh bidri opkolthene. kyoto ki jai.

anoushka: Yes, we pride our selves on our ability to (or kid ourselves into believing that we can) see beyond the gluk between our toes.

anon1: Hae mar jawaan :)

anon2: Correct, no? Mommie Indie is full chappal toting power-lady. Not the seraphic siren of yesteryear. Jai Bharat Mata indeed!