Delhi’s Art Deco Build­ings Are Also Part of In­dia’s Her­itage

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature - Reshmi Das­gupta

fur­ther in­ci­dents.

One point made at that time was obviously not in­ter­nalised by ei­ther the au­thor­i­ties or the per­pe­tra­tors: the in­stal­la­tion of heavy gen­er­a­tor sets and ex­tra wa­ter tanks on the line and mor­tar roofs. Once the up­per floors use had changed from res­i­dences to restau­rants and shops there was no su­per­vi­sion of th­ese ad­di­tions.

The same sit­u­a­tion ex­ists in Con­naught Place, a lovely - and unique- Art Deco era shop­ping and eat­ing com­plex. And there is no telling how much dam­age has been done al­ready to the build­ings with the tun­nelling of the Delhi Metro sys­tem and what will be the long term ef­fect of the con­stant vi­bra­tions of the trains.

There was some con­cern about the Delhi Metro’s Her­itage line (again the in­sin­cere use of that word) tun­nelling past Mughal era mon­u­ments. But, with re­spect, it’s not only Mughal and Lodi era struc­tures that de­serve love, care and re­spect. In­deed, so many Art Deco era build­ings in New Delhi have been treated atro­ciously.

While “Lu­tyens Delhi” in­hab­i­tants may jus­ti­fi­ably at­tract ire for be­ing in­su­lar and en­ti­tled, the build­ings should not end up bear­ing the brunt. There has to be some un­der­stand­ing of what th­ese build­ings are made of, what they can with­stand when it comes to “mod­ern ameni­ties” and what care they need in or­der to stay stand­ing.

It is un­for­tu­nate that while spe­cialised con­ser­va­tion and ren­o­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Aga Khan Trust for Cul­ture can be roped in to re­vive, say, the Hu­mayun’s Tomb com­plex, most gra­cious build­ings that Lu­tyens, Baker, Tor Rus­sell, Brom­feld and oth­ers de­signed are left to the ten­der mer­cies of the pub­lic works departments.

Even many of the non gov­ern­ment ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior spe­cial­ists hired by peo­ple to “ren­o­vate” stores in Khan Mar­ket and Con­naught Place show pre­cious lit­tle re­gard for the old struc­tures. Facts like load bear­ing walls and non-con­crete roofs are for­got­ten in the move to “open up spa­ces” and “let in light”, lead­ing to col­lapsed roofs.

The old In­dian dis­re­gard for what is in use, per­sists. Gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies treat their her­itage abodes with scant re­spect. Jawa­har­lal Nehru prob­a­bly ini­ti­ated this dis­re­gard when he or­dered the de­mo­li­tion of the largest of the gra­cious bun­ga­lows to make way for Udyog and Kr­ishi Bhawans, Vi­gyan Bhawan, et al.

That cul­mi­nated in the mon­strosi­ties that are Shas­tri and Nir­man Bha­vans, not to men­tion even uglier later con­struc­tions such as Sena Bha­van and Lok Nayak Bha­van. In­deed, most new build­ings in Cen­tral Delhi with a “Bha­van” suf­fix are the best ex­am­ples of how dire the aes­thetic in­cli­na­tions of gov­ern­ment agen­cies are.

As more and more of the ne­glected or badly main­tained Delhi’s Lu­tyens era build­ings be­gin to show in­evitable signs of stress - in­clud­ing the Par­lia­ment - there will be calls for them to be re­placed with new con­struc­tions. And we have a good idea of what they will prob­a­bly look like, go­ing by the new gov­ern­ment res­i­den­tial en­claves.

Why don’t the Art Deco and other “younger” her­itage struc­tures of New Delhi de­serve the same ten­der lov­ing care as Mughal and other me­dieval era struc­tures get? Surely th­ese are now as much a part of In­dia’s “vi­rasat” - le­gacy? Un­less th­ese struc­tures are as strictly pro­tected and ren­o­vated, such cave-ins will con­tinue to hap­pen.

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