Interview

SIR BERNARD FEILDEN

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Do you feel that the way conservation has developed in India has been out of context considering it is based on the UK model?

Conservation based on a UK model has, in some instances, been successful in India. An example is the Mehrangarh Trust’s work with Maniki and Kulbhushan Jain at Nagaur Fort. The difficulty is, however, that an Indian context has been painfully slow in evolving. I was hoping that Professor A.G. Krishna Menon would produce an Indian theory.

 

Has the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) perpetuated the chasm between the people and their heritage?

The ASI has a great history and past triumphs, but now it is a shadow of its former self, because its directors are short term administrators and not long-tenure, fully trained professionals. It needs at least a seven year tenure to lead and educate the staff and implement conservative actions. The overall outlook of ASI has to be broadened to include landscape and architectural experts. Its relationship to the archaeological department of the states too needs improvement.

 

How do you see the practice of conservation as it has developed in India; has it served its purpose?

Ideally, ‘sustainable’ living, conservation and development should work together for the benefit of the next generation. As far as I know, this ideal has not been achieved in any country. The problem is how to benefit the stakeholders. The cleaning of the sagars at Khajuraho and planting of trees is a good first step, but it has been blocked by ASI !

 

How do we safeguard our pluralistic culture in the emerging political environment?

Politicians can use cultural heritage for political purposes, and this is generally disastrous. The symbolic value of cultural heritage makes it a target in ethnic struggles and subjects it to wanton damage. These are the dangers.

 

How can conservation approaches address contemporary aspirations and development needs?

Conservation with contemporary aspirations of sustainability can work harmoniously with development needs if the town planning context is favourable. In architecture, there have been big moves towards sustainability, with an increased understanding of buildings as spatial structural environmental systems. This understanding lies at the heart of architectural conservation.

 

Given the development pressures on our heritage, do you feel that in India NGOs have fulfilled their role as facilitators and advocates or do they need to revisit their role.

The NGOs have played a useful role in raising public awareness. They could have done more had there been political support and active cooperation with the ASI and state archaeologists. The voluntary work in listing local heritage was praiseworthy but lacks follow up.

 

Given your immense experience in India what is your vision for a conservation strategy for the 21st century for India?

I wish I knew enough to hazard an answer to this question. The size and complexity of India is immense. I could not really answer this question for Britain, let alone Europe. If a valid Indian theory of conservation could reach the local master builders, there would be hope.

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