As the early autumn sun began to set in late afternoon on September 18, Humayun’s Tomb was bathed in a mellow golden light that emphasized the subtle hues of its stone, both yellow and pink, a reminder of the extraordinary architectural skills of our master craftspeople that live on till today. It took much care to restore this monument set in a formal Mughal garden back to its pristine splendour. The Aga Khan Trust, along with Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, working in partnership with government agencies and city municipalities, managed to overcome the frustrating rigours, delays and disappointments of unthinking red- tapism and stubborn babudom to achieve what may have seemed impossible seven years ago, when this project was initiated.
The prime minister of India and Prince Karim Aga Khan IV unveiled this tomb of a great Mughal emperor, in its new avatar, a jewel in the landscape of Delhi, that was allowed to breathe again after having been neglected for centuries — mutilated with concrete additions and assaulted by vandalism and graffiti — which is, unfortunately, the sad fate of most monuments in India. Governments have, in the past, put all manifestations of our history and culture on the back-burner of national policy initiatives. Our museums, the repositories of our many legacies, and the easiest of institutions to preserve with care and respect, are today examples of poor management, bureaucratic lethargy and ineptitude laced with lack of knowledge.
Manmohan Singh spoke about the need to restore, conserve and protect the remarkable edifices of our rich history that are the fine, inclusive tapestry of our culture. Sadly, all the agencies of the government disregard the sentiments of the prime minister. Illegal structures and encroachments are allowed for the personal gain of corrupt officers who consciously look away and do not enforce the existing laws. Land mafias rule the roost. Municipalities are careless and compromising. There is no single point of reference for civil society, trusts and NGOs willing to partner and raise resources for restoration. The project to restore Humayun’s Tomb was also fraught with many horrors of having to deal with representatives of the government who had all been responsible for the decay in the first place.
The government must ensure that monies and energy are not wasted on dealing with errant babus who delay and stall because they are unable to comprehend the need for restoration and preservation. Autonomy is the only answer to this dreadful reality. Rules are convoluted, many from an age gone by, irrelevant to the present context. Top bosses who speak for conservation wake up to the issue once in a while, punctuating long gaps of indifference and silence, permitting the babu to run amok because the rules are no longer valid in a changed time.
If there is a strong and firm diktat by every chief minister and the prime minister that restoration, preservation, and the involvement of the community in that process is mandatory for at least one monument in every district of India, this country would be a visual paradise on earth. And it is easy to do.
But do the rulers really care? If they did care they could have easily ensured an easing of the processes and permissions. Unlike in the rest of the world, the Indian babu is master at stalling all that needs to be done. It is the sad truth of a fumbling and bungling India. Their intellectual insecurity and inability to keep pace with a changed world has devastated modern India.
Meanwhile, three cheers for the patience and commitment of the team that worked on Humayun’s Tomb!