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Is It A Toilet? Is It A Canvas? Is It A Dating Site?

20/05/2015 8:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Kena Shree

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'Modern art' clicked during a trip to Amber Fort, Jaipur

Like any other date, 18 April passed by. But not before it was celebrated with much fanfare and media attention across the world as 'World Heritage Day". There were seminars, heritage walks, quizzes, interactive programmes, slogan contests, a Twitter trail of hash tags, pictures flooding Instagram. It seemed as if everyone had a stake in saving our ancient heritage sites and historical monuments.

But even as diverse voices chimed as one to commemorate our glorious past, the chorus felt like a dirge. An obituary. It was as if a monument in its death throes was witnessing from its half-grave the soft pastel wreaths being offered as a mark of respect along with a few kind words in remembrance of its erstwhile stardom. Listening to futile prayers to "let's keep it alive forever". Now that we did our bit in paying condolences, may its dear soul rest in peace while it actually rests in pieces.

"As you tear yourself away from these modern-day murals and advance towards the dark and begrimed rooms, you stagger under an olfactory assault. "

As an avid traveller who has traversed the most difficult roads to scale the heights of our country's majestic forts, I can vouch that we are too rich to ever get ripped off our national heritage. No matter in how bad a shape we leave our monuments, their ruins will speak of its grandeur and legends of bravery. Unless of course we try to overwrite these legends with our hastily scrawled names and doodles.

The moment you enter an old monument, somewhere in the corner of the entrance you will spot welcoming graffiti carved on the wall by a former visitor. Most likely, the graffiti will be a proclamation of profound love for his sweetheart, often in the form of a heart pierced with Cupid's arrow etched with the names of our very own Romeo-Juliet, or perhaps excerpts from an open love letter mostly ending with "I luv U". At times, you might discover a tourist's knowledge of human anatomy, especially genitalia. Whatever form it takes, there will always be an indelible mark of a tourist's courteous presence.

As you tear yourself away from these modern-day murals and advance towards the dark and begrimed rooms, you stagger under an olfactory assault. While the tourist guide narrates legendary tales of the fort and insists that you go deeper towards the corner to get a feel of the monument's earlier magnificence, all you can think of is the ammonia flooding your nostrils. And then it dawns on you. The ammoniac smell originates in the now-dry urine of those who came here before you. Maybe they just couldn't wait to use the public utilities just a few metres away from the site.

"A 'Photography Prohibited Area' will be illuminated by flashes from hidden mobile cameras and in all possibility, most selfies will be clicked in 'Danger: Stay Away' zones."

While government authorities take special care to place specific signboards instructing tourists to follow certain guidelines, the rebellious child sheltered within an adult mind immediately pops out to break rules. If the sign warns not to pluck flowers, somebody will pick their very own bouquet. In signboards apprising "Do not scribble on the walls", "not" will be scratched off. At places where "Do not touch the wet paint" is subscribed, impressions of palms like dirty X-ray bones will be imprinted forever. A "Photography Prohibited Area" will be illuminated by flashes from hidden mobile cameras and in all possibility, most selfies will be clicked in "Danger: Stay Away" zones.

There are other pastimes too. Visitors to heritage site seem to have a great proclivity for spitting out great gobs of reddish brown paan masala (tobacco) commixture freshly prepared in their mouths, staining the walls in a botched water-drop fashion. Noses are blown and mucus ejected at the mere hint of a scratchy nostril or throat. Such emergencies cannot be postponed until reaching a toilet or bin.

Nevertheless, whether these heritage buildings may or may not be human friendly, they are indeed the most serene abode to monkeys, cows, stray dogs, snakes and bats. The authorities also usually let them be, which is why we were shocked when recently the parliamentary standing committee banned the daily procession of some 150 buffaloes across East Gate and VIP Gate of the Taj Mahal in a concerted effort, fearing it could dirty a world heritage site (read, it could impede VIP visits).

"'It must be a rabbit,' you hurriedly tell children straining to see the cause of the commotion behind the rose bushes."

And why just animals? The sequestered rooms, secluded gardens and dense bushes in the vicinity of old dilapidated monuments offer young couples a safe and secret dating place, where they can easily meet or mate, away from the eyes of a cynical society. "It must be a rabbit," you hurriedly tell children straining to see the cause of the commotion behind the rose bushes. Then for fear of causing embarrassment, you take a different route.

We hear that the recent earthquake in Nepal savaged many monuments of historical significance, and we once again paid tribute to their dear departed remains. Perhaps we didn't realise that whatever happened was just nature doing to them for one day, what we have been doing bit-by-bit for years now.

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