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May 25, 2016

#TheHybridLife: Celebrating India’s Past

Text by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta

Do we choose to leave tradition behind or bring it along with us as we embrace a thrilling future?

India is on the threshold of major changes in lifestyle and culture. These are exciting as they promise choice, but does that herald the demise of traditional values and ancient glories? Is our rich architectural heritage threatened? Will we forget the delightful rituals that we practised when our grandmothers were alive? And only wear saris on our wedding day? I don’t think so. I do believe that each generation brings to these rich legacies, whether tangible or intangible, its own interpretations and ways of celebrating them.

The new impetus on urbanisation will bring radical changes to our cities, while new technologies will affect the way we live and interact. It is important to embrace change. But we must root for a democratic transformation which gives equal weightage to both the past and the present. That which allows for the joyous celebratory processions but also ensures space for those moments of quiet contemplation.

Our relationship with heritage tends to be one of awe and distance. An official once told me that he thought museums are graveyards for objects. I was horrified because we have shrouded the past in an intimidating veil and made it unapproachable. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has realised that unless the past has a life today, it cannot be expected to survive. Our heritage needs to be something that can be enjoyed, while being adapted to the present times.

One of my most delightful experiences at a heritage site was at the Tower of London. A theatre group dressed in period costume was acting out the lives of various famous people who lived and died in the English capital ­ lives full of murder mysteries and love scandals. A simple strategy had created a memorable experience and given new life to the centuries-old building.

Museums have also reinvented themselves the world over, and today compete with football matches in terms of visitors. The Tate and the British Museum each get millions of visitors a year. The Louvre gets about 10 million. Our best museums get 10 lakhs a year. We need to make our museums come alive again. Other countries struggle to find cultural artefacts whereas we have an abundance of these. The past only has relevance if it is integrated into the fabric of the present. The choices we make will inform how we evolve as a civilisation.

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