Thursday, September 28, 2000

Heritage conservation in IT age

By Razen Manandhar

We must be lucky that our great,great grandfathers have built so many monuments for us. They constructed giant temples like Pashupatinath, Changu Narayan, Boudha, Swayambhu so that the people would pray for the country's prosperity. And the rulers of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur were also so benevolent that they had their palaces built amid the common people's residences and made them full of temples so that people might tread over the palace premise every day..."

These are the common speeches intelligent people love to deliver now and then. They never miss talking about the bird called heritage conservation when they see some white skinned audience, probably from World Heritage Committee or UNESCO itself.

We have become very conscious about this topic, at least in front of the foreigners - because UNESCO believes they are valuable for the world. To please them, we have to work as if we have a room in our heart for the monuments we have acquired from our ancestors. And optimistic foreigners clap their hands (They will never know how easy it is to draw donations in the name of heritage conservation).

Next reason to conserve the cultural heritage: A big part of national income is backed by the tourism industry. It is easy to promote this industry because you have to invest nothing for raw materials. Your grandfather planted a tree three hundred years ago and now you are the legitimate heir - you don't have to love the tree to pluck fruits. Let's conserve the temples for the tourism industry's sake.

Driven by these two major incentives, we have determined to conserve our cultural heritage. But the bitter side of the truth is that it is not as easy a job in this IT age.

The world has changed. Today our mind has "memory space" only for cement constructions, roller shutters, air-conditions, Toyotas, leather jackets, hamburgers and computers. But we have to pretend as if we really care for heritage conservation. How?

No worry, we have secret techniques of conserving UNESCO's heritage in this modern world. This would satisfy the annoyed UNESCO team as well as other white skinned heritage lovers.

We are doing all this for the foreigners' sake, so we don't have to worry about genuineness. They can find no wrong in the way we "conserve" the monuments in decorating style. Indeed, we are clever enough to dupe the westerners.

The international experts demand use of indigenous materials and art in renovation of the heritage sites and surrounding buildings. We cant' do this but there are lots of things that can be done. Here are some common tricks: Erect concrete pillars or walls, wrap them with brick-shaped tiles and cover the joining with mud. Instead of genuine wood carvings, stick machine cut pieces of wood. Use iron beams or pillars and cover them with wood pieces. You can paint copper roofs with enamel. Allow buildings can be built over water spouts and the spouts can be made to drip from water tanks. Build a fake temple over the underground-like place where the gods reside.

Let Tibetans build giant structures in the name of preserving the jungle. Don't renovate a courtyard for decades, lock it instead. Everything is okay if you can satisfy the demon called the High Level Mission of World Heritage Centre.

But above all, the best way to please them must be to throw a handsome party somewhere in a starry hotel.
[Kathmandu Thursday September 28, 2000 Aswin 12, 2057.]