Heritage, in its popular version, is an evidence of history – a relic of times past; a monument or a meme that’s survived the destructive forces of ‘nature and nurture’ (irony intended) to be seen by consciously detaching it from the present and appreciating it’s ‘authenticity’; a museumised product to be consumed.
But there are other ways to take heritage walks as one discovered in preparation for Do Din Dec 14-15, last Sunday with Debashish Nayak conseervation activist and a group of around 20 people. This was a walk to connect people with neighbourhoods, to rediscover neighbourhoods. It was a walk where the visitor and the host affirmed each other’s presence. The hosts were the tourism department and Madhu Vottery but only nominally. The real hosts were the people who lived around the places that the group walked through. This was not a walk to consume heritage. It was not a prepackaged history byte but a story, in fact it was multiple story lines that opened out without worry about the urgency to find closures.
It began from under the Charminar, a rather unflattering angle of the great monument, but a more promising place to start weaving in perspectives and ended in Chowmahalla palace with breakfast. It was not somuch about the buildings along the way but about the people we ran into and the things they wanted to share. Here are some of the vignettes: A woman who just bought a rooster for a sacrifice to the Balkampet temple happily posing for the photographers; a school teacher surrounded by three pretty children jumping in to explain the details of this king or that brick formation, (it didn’t really matter what it was because they were all equally exciting in his rendition); a karate instructor training girls and boys in spotless dresses and all too happy to give us a demonstration; a shankh and chakra engraved below a moon and star on an old building—a story of peaceful coexistence of religious symbols, hence ideas, hence people. Heritage suddenly appeared as life itself, the built environment and what it enabled.
The greatest take away from the heritage walk was the surprised smile lighting up on the creased face of an old cloth merchant when someone asked him for a telia rumal. He said, you sound like an old time customer. And without looking up he said, see that corner, that is where my father used to sit and sell this very material.
During Do Din, there will hopefully be a heritage walk. Hopefully, many heritage walks. When you think of heritage walk as an act of affirmation, then it becomes conceivable that one could take a heritage walk anywhere anytime. It is, in some sense, learning to walk as we should: with respect and with preparation to recognize and engage with the place and its inhabitants.