A major controversy is raging over the restoration of the Reis Margos fort by heritage lovers. Taking on board international methods and trends in restoration, the proposed changes include complete public access, a café, bookshop and other amenities including a lift for disabled access.
Our saffron friends from the Shiv Sena, of course, find this whole restoration offensive. The lift, they think, will be used for “commercial interest”. That somebody who’s less abled that their lathi wielding friends may actually want to visit the fort may not have occurred to them.
To compound matters, part of the restoration is funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. And you know what suspicion foreign funding of any kind is viewed by those-who-don’t-not-fund-anything-themselves. I have dealt with so many trusts in my years of working with a national charity in the UK, and I marvel at the work they do. Thousands of family Trusts are set up to distribute funds to deserving causes in the UK and internationally. They have the money. They want to do some good and use that money to make a difference. Many trusts have restricted funding for specific causes. Some will give only to research or animal welfare, or to work in the third world. Others will put money into much needed art funding – to inspire, upgrade and protect art galleries, museums and sometimes, forts.
Why is that so hard to understand? If the SS has any sense, they’d ask for information on the Lady Hamlyn Trust and check their finances. They’d check what they’ve been spending their money on and who they’ve been backing. Unlike Indian NGOs, these documents are free to view on the website of the UK’s Charity Commission.
So, the SS is up in arms, threatening to stop the work, beat up workers and generally, just being their usual genial selves. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to actually request to work with the committee, approving or even suggesting improvements to this historic fort.
What they’d rather do, is leave their own heritage (what will Shivaji think of the current condition of his forts?) in a shabby, utter state of disrepair. If you’ve ever been to Sindhudurg, you’ll know what I mean. For that kind of historic significance, the condition of the fort is pitiable. Cement bags piled up at the entrance, gaudy paint on the little houses inside, tacky little shops selling cold-drinks, broken steps to the ramparts and an (only) Marathi speaking guide (who’s also your boatman back to the mainland – take it or leave it) who gives a rapid fire tour of the place in exchange for some money. There are no other facilities.
Is this what is called ‘protecting your culture’?