Heritage Conservation

What Mumbai has that Bengaluru doesn’t

There is an anecdote that is the stuff of legend. When queen Victoria took over the administration of India from the British East India Company in the 1860s, she gathered a group of cultural big shots to figure out urban planning and aesthetics. The group came up with a plan. They would give Bombay a Gothic style of architecture; Calcutta, a Colonial style; and Madras, an Indo-Saracenic style. As for Delhi, they would give it to a young architect called Edwin Landseer Lutyens, who was becoming known for his syncretic approach to building. The question then is, what is the Indian style of building; and when we talk about heritage conservation, aren’t we mostly referring to buildings built in the British time?
Should we preserve the British aesthetic that was handed down to us; or should we define an Indian one that is suited to the time and place we live in? The question is in some senses moot (or irrelevant) because the real-estate titans who are defining our skylines are adopting an approach that is more global than local—building glass and steel high-rises that look no different from the ones in Shanghai, New York or London. The buildings that are being constructed in any urban city in India today have largely no character or sense of place and serve a utilitarian purpose of maximizing space and economic returns without any real panache—all of which bolsters the argument for heritage preservation, such as it is. Can there be an Indian model for heritage preservation?
Shikha Jain, director of Dronah (Development and Research Organisation for Nature, Arts and Heritage), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization working in the field of preservation and community design, has described one model that could be useful to many of our Indian cities. In her paper, Jaipur As A Recurring Renaissance, Jain makes a case for viewing city planning as a process rather than a product; marrying current city needs such as solid waste management and parking spaces with existing heritage structures. The rub for Bangaloreans, who are new to this game, is that a number of Indian cities have thought about this and implemented heritage conservation acts, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Panaji. The reason is obvious, even to someone who makes her home and loves the city of Bengaluru, as I do. Bangaloreans aren’t united, passionate, or driven enough to make a case for its heritage structures. That may change with the victory civic activists have had with saving the Balabrooie Guest House. Mumbai, in contrast, has whole clusters of civic activists who are passionate about preserving its buildings and streetscapes.
When I called conservation architect and activist Abha Narain Lambah, she was at a government office, trying to get the paperwork for a heritage project moving. “In Bombay, we realized early on that we could not rely on the government for help,” she said. “We also realized that we had to be more innovative with respect to what constituted heritage. Is it streetscapes? Is it urban clusters?”
When I asked about Mumbai’s successes with heritage conservation, Lambah promptly listed what her fellow citizens had done. Three women took Mumbai’s municipal corporation to court to get custody of the badly maintained Oval Maidan and won. To this day, Ocra, or the Oval Cooperage Residents Association, maintains the premises. Anahita Pundole filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay high court, stating that the visual sanctity of the city was being spoilt by hoardings. She too won. Lambah convinced 70 shopkeepers on Dadabai Naoroji Road to accept redesigned signage that was in keeping with the area’s visual history. The shopkeepers not only agreed, they funded the project. Recently, the residents of Bandra Bandstand reclaimed its seafront. The list goes on.
Mumbai seems to inspire this sort of loyalty and activism among its citizens. Does it say something about the quality of its residents? Is it because Mumbai is a wealthy city?
Heritage conservation is an elitist, high GDP (gross domestic product) activity. This is not to say that the average driver, cobbler, waiter or flower seller does not appreciate the graceful proportions of old buildings. It is that this busy segment of the population either has no access to these spaces or sees no value in them. The Balabrooie Guest House is off limits to most Bangaloreans. I have never entered it. So are many old buildings. How then to get the general public to care? How to get them to protest to save a building or tree? Or is it not important to involve all segments of the population? Is heritage conservation a rich person’s game? More specifically, is it a niche in which women do well? If “his-tory” is written around men, does “her-itage” centre around “her” or women? Okay, I just said that for wordplay.
The truth is that heritage conservation is not a costly exercise. In 2001, the facade of Elphinstone College was restored for `15 lakh, according to Lambah. In the late 1990s, the Kala Ghoda Association restored Horniman Circle for `6 lakh. “It just takes one municipal commissioner with will and a group of dedicated citizens,” says Lambah.
Sounds simple but hard to duplicate in other Indian cities. It takes visionaries like architects K.T. Ravindran and A.G.K. Menon, who can combine urban planning, heritage conservation and development. It takes urbanists like Prasad Shetty and multifaceted personalities such as poet-translator-architect-teacher Mustansir Dalvi to come up with nuanced yet implementable approaches to heritage conservation. It requires collaboration and consensus-building on what constitutes heritage and how to conserve it. So far, in Bengaluru , I cannot think of a single person who has the will, the wiles and the chutzpah to take it forward.

This is the second in a two-part series on heritage conservation. Write to her at


  1. But then we did not need much activism in the beautiful, peaceful, graceful, green, dignified Bangalore of the pre 1990s. What did we need to agitate about then? The interesting thing about old Mysore state and its heritage was how well everything was planned and how gentle the pace was. How everything maintained itself. Till Bangalore became the schizophrenic city it is now. 🙂


    1. First of all I commend you gals for taking my message in the right spirit. Usha I am saddened to learn you found our group elitist. OK the level of discourse is higher than what novices or even total newbies are used to, but that’s part and parcel of things. I am sure if you asked around there would be many who would cheerfully help you learn more and participate more and I agree we could and should do more to make it more approachable.

      Bangalore has had activism since the south tank demolition in 1985. Late 90s to today has been a total explosion of everything. That is where we need more elected representation e.g. help from you guys. If we get people elected to the city and municipal councils then we can stem the tide of heritage erosion as well as get our builders and developers to recognize this and submit plans that even initially are passing a heritage review before other construction code and regulatory reviews.


      1. Dear Mahesh,

        I am an architect in Bangalore and I have been trying to connect with someone from INTACH to understand better the policy level implementation for heritage buildings especially for colonial bungalows. Would love to connect with you.


      2. Mahesh, I just read your reply here (because I logged into wordpress after many months 🙂 ) When I referred to ‘elitist’, it was not to say that it was difficult for me to learn or participate. It is just that the walks and workshops are at a level that presupposes a certain level of education/English and certain background. This is my issue with various organisations that work with people in Bangalore. I have raised the same with Janagraha (civic awareness workshops), metaculture (conflict resolution workshops) while attending their workshops, that by conducting these in English for an audience with a certain approach and a certain level of education, a vast majority of people get excluded. . One of the answers was that they do not have resource persons in Kannada or Tamil or any of the local languages. If it is so, we really have to think about why it is so. Also it is not just about the language but about the ability to connect to people.


  2. Shoba, I think it was the year 2000. There rose a spontaneous peoples’ movement in Bangalore called ‘Save Cubbon Park’. It went on for over a month. Middle class women with no political affiliation were significant participants and catalysed the movement. We stood near the Mahatma Gandhi statue everyday. We organized protest marches with citizens groups such as doctors, teachers etc, almost everyday. Later, Medha Patkar joined us for a day. So did the ‘thinkers’ of Bangalore. And freedom fighters. So did others. I don’t remember the details. We did not succeed in our objective. The government did not budge. A court stay was brought. I think the annexe to the legislator’s home too got built. Hopefully it led to sensitization that brought quicker results as in the case of Balabrooie. There was a lot of coverage in the local print media that you might be able to access.

    Hasiru Usiru (perhaps the year 2009) and a public movement was what saved the trees on Nanda road during the early stages of Namma Metro construction. Today the Metro line runs through a beautiful avenue on Nanda Road surrounded by greenery. Only some branches were sacrificed.

    A senior citizen, her name was Kaveri, I think, fought single handed all the way to the Supreme Court. She succeeded in saving the big park on Jayanagar 11th Main from being taken over (by the Rajkumar fans association, if I remember right). I was told that she had to face threats but nothing deterred her.

    Not sure whether this article is published in Mint. If it has, just for setting the record straight, Bangalore did have a history of activism as far back as the 1990s and 2000s. Before the ‘new’ Bangalore took over. Maybe many more before and later that I cannot think of right now..

    Best, Usha.


  3. Shoba I respectfully disagree with your entire article.

    First of all, you are still newly arrived in Bangalore – seeing as your article is about culture and heritage. It is rather unfair of you to comment that Bangaloreans are “new to this game”, or Bangaloreans are not “united, passionate, or driven”. You also do not yourself possess any background in architecture or civil engineering or city planning. I’d respectfully ask you to check out INTACH Bangalore ( whose whole purpose is to gather architects, planners, engineers, writers and others who try to preserve the cultural legacy of the city. Writers, of course, refers to those who have lived here a while and have something of a background in the subject.

    We at INTACH are Bangaloreans who are indeed united and passionate about creating awareness for the very things you mention. You are an acclaimed writer and when writers like you write pieces like this one, you undermine our work and undo the very awareness we are trying to create. FYI, INTACH is committed to more than just awareness; among our many projects are the restoration of Mayo Hall and Tipu’s armoury.

    Heritage conservation is NOT an elitist high GDP activity. This is precisely one of the MAJOR misconceptions we are trying to fight. Even the driver and cobbler and waiter can contribute their time and/or money (no contribution is too small) AND yes they can participate in their city heritage through our heritage walks and other public programmes. Balabrooie was unnecessarily politicized, which, again is one of our great ills. But it is also a challenge. We need supporters and transformers, not armchair detractors, to go forward in this project. Prof Menon and Ravindran, whom you mention, are certainly supportive – but they have their challenges for funding and administration and the dozen other mindless headaches in running an organization like ours.

    I would like to, if I may, reach your readers through your blog to say the following.

    1. Bangalore is your city. You live here. You remember your childhood home fondly, this home was given to you by your city and just as a human has a place in his family and community, your home has a place in your city. You teach your children about your family and your childhood home, you also have a duty to teach your children about your city and its heritage. It is one of the most rewarding and timeless lessons for your child. (Do consider taking one of our Heritage Walks to enliven your story.)

    2. It is up to the citizens to build their world. Heritage is no longer an architectural style. Older buildings were built in block style, stone and wood, in honour of Greek and Roman and Mohamedan legends, newer buildings were (and are) being built with glass and cement and this is not just to maximize their utility but also to sweep out new design thinking. (Look at the Golden Tusk or Bangalore Airport, for example.)

    3. It is no longer for the elitist or rich people. It may take a billion dollars to build an Antilia, perhaps less money to build Jawahar Kala Kendra, but these days it takes far less to appreciate architectural heritage and contribute to preserving the legacy of it. You, cab driver / engineer / writer / housewife / vegetable seller, can do something. Join an organization (not necessarily INTACH), go on a walk, or even just spend an afternoon surfing the web to discover your heritage and legacy. Do something. It is well worth it.

    4. Spread the word. Tell your friends about your heritage. Tweet it, blog it, Facebook it.


    1. Dear Sir:
      I know Intach. I tried taking a Heritage Walk. I know and have great respect for Satyaprakash Varanshi and have connected with Meera. I will try to take one again with my child as you say.
      Glad you wrote your response.


      1. I take walks/workshops with INTACH regularly. The groups I walk with do seem elitist. But if I remember right, INTACH worked with auto drivers and children from schools at various socio economic levels to raise awareness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s