It is certainly a matter of pride for all the Amdavadis and Indians that Ahmedabad has been declared as the first World Heritage CIty in Inda alongwith Kulangsu of China and Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia. Every news article declaring this feat of Ahmedabad is full with mentioning the reasons why Ahmedabad got selected and the efforts put in the past six years to make Ahmedabad achieve this title. I was absolutely delighted to hear this news last night but it also put me in a state of trepidation that are we [Amdavadis] actually ready to sustain this tag of being inhabitants of a World Heritage CIty ? I had been working as a conservation architect with City Heritage Center since past one year and the office and the scope of work beig entirely in the Walled City, I have been closely associated to not only the heritage buildings but also its residents. I am not focusing on writing about the heritage, history, architecture and culture of the Walled City because there are already numerous articles on the web regarding that and after this declaration yesterday, I am sure these informative articles are going to get more hits – mostly by Amdavadis only! This article is to elaborate on how two different group of people of Ahmedabad – one who are residents of the Walled City and one who are residents of the urban Ahmedabad on the west side of Sabarmati will react to this new title their city has gained!
THE UNAWARE, INNOCENT, BUSY MONEY MINTING RESIDENTS OF THE MODERN AHMEDABAD
As they sip their morning tea feeling immense joy reading the news of Ahmedabad being declared as a WHC, half of the Amdavadis must be lingering in shame inside that the news is great but what does AHmedabad has got to bag such a global title. The fact is that more than half of the Amdavadis don’t know what actually they possess in terms of brilliant wooden havelis, intricately designed Jain temples and mosques, such well planned pols which are more than 600 year old. Thanks to the AMC for starting the Heritage Walk a few years back, majority of the youth atleast is now aware of their heritage. My school friends still don’t know about the rich heritage of their own city which might be hardly 5-8 km away from their home but majority of them have travelled to atleast one city of Rajasthan appreciating their forts and the architecture along the narrow streets. Many are having this questions in their mind that inspite of being in competition with cities like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Delhi, Mumbai and Agra how Ahmedabad became the World Heritage City ?! This question can only come in someone’s mind because they are unaware of their own cultural heritage which exists only a few miles away from them.
WHAT’S NEEDED ?
It becomes a fundamental duty of every Amdavadi to make their family and friends aware of the cultural heritage of the city not just through articles on their smartphones but through heritage walks and actively taking part in the programmes of the Government as volunteers or participants. Tourism is likely to get a boost after this declaration so whether we are a resident of the Walled City or not, it becomes our duty to maintain its cleanliness on every footstep. Every Amdavadi will be proud that he/she resides in a World Heritage City but we hope to gain adequate knowledge of its past and to why Ahmedabad got selected as a WHC before we take pride.
THE UNFORTUNATE OWNERS OF THE HERITAGE BUILDINGS
AMC has listed nearly 2000 properties in the Walled City as buildings of heritage importance. A lot of joint families of the Walled City have now become nuclear ones as the children of the new age have migrated to west side for a better living experience while the elderly ones choose to stay back where they have spent their entire life. I had to visit many Havelis and converse with their owners to make them aware about why it is necessary to restore their heritage buildings. People owning a heritage listed building and not having a strong financial condition usually fear to allow anyone from the Heritage Department to enter or look around their houses because as per the concept fitted in their mind by the government is that – they can’t sell their Havelis to anyone who doesn’t assures that he will take care of the heritage in its own glory. People in he Walled City don’t want their houses to be listed as a ‘Heritage Property’. It is already hard to find buyers in the Walled City as the streets are as narrow to 4 feet in some areas and insufficient parking facilities prevail in the entire Walled City. The new buyers mainly want to change the existing use of the building to generate revenues which demands heavy changes in the building and as per the government’s guideline that it is must to keep the facade intact. A heritage building is certainly important for the culture of a city but it is also someone’s ‘home’ which is an asset for the owner which will be helpful to him in situations of financial emergencies. For the owners of the heritage buildings which are in a bad condition, this news has come as a nightmare as rules will be more strict now if they have to sell their property.
WHAT’S NEEDED ?
The government should not only work as per UNESCO’s guidelines but also look into the situations of its current residents and develop a policy which has a balance in interests at both – the local and the global sclaes. Providing financial aids for restoration and proper sanitation facilities so that the migration ratio can be decreased. The government needs to imply more on the Tradable Development RIghts scheme where the builders pay for the restoration to the owner in exchange of FSI for their new construction outside the Walled City. A set of basic rules/guidelines should be disseminated by the government which the common people can also follow in a simple way and he/she feels a part in maintaining a World Heritage City. For people visiting certain streets of the Walled City it should be mandatory to walk after a certain point. One day of a week should be made as a ‘No-Vehicle Day’ in the Walled City. Start-ups, hostels, libraries and old age homes should be proposed more and more by the government and entrepreneurs in the Walled City. Artists can also involve themselves in designing graffitis for the streets.
All in all, this matter of pride has come to us with alot of responsibilty and it becomes mandatory for each resident to understand their role in maintaining a World Heritage City and to work towards it.
[For more pictures of the Walled City and its people, you can visit my Instagram account – @sher_o_tasveer]