Comment: Restoring our heritage


An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sep 12, 2013.

My parents tell me we are from the Mughal tribe.

I don’t have any way to verify this claim. I just take their word for it because I don’t really understand what belonging to the Mughal tribe truly means. Does it make me the descendent of some fallen warrior king or just one down the line of those illegitimate offspring monarchs were famous for in those old centuries? Or am I from the heir of some insignificant soldier of the marauding Turko-Mongol armies who decided to settle down in the Indian plains because hey, why the hell not.

To be honest, I don’t believe Mughal ancestry could’ve helped me much in the early 21st Century, in which I am doomed to live most of my life and die. The Mughal Empire was quite a disappointment anyway, except perhaps that one syncretism-loving King and that one enlightened “heretic” prince.

So when I heard that the Sheikhupura Fort, built by the Mughal king Jahangir — that’s Sheikhu from Mughal-e-Azam for those who are only familiar with history through the movies — in the 17th Century, was going to be restored through a financial grant, it did not especially affect me.

The fort is a crumbling structure, much like most things in this country. It is old and historic and neglected. There are buildings inside the fort which are so unstable that they have been closed to the public.

And that’s more or less the state of most historic places in Pakistan, especially in Punjab: from Sirkap in Taxila to Nur Jahan’s tomb in Lahore. Elsewhere, the Mohenjodaro ruins were reportedly affected in recent rains. The native town of the monk who introduced Buddhism to South Korea lies unmarked in Swabi a decade after it was discovered.

The lack of funds for preservation and limited capacity of archaeological departments, both of which contribute to such neglect and disrepair, are conditions that will probably not go away anytime soon.

It is sadly ironic, on a purely romantic level and excluding the external factors which helped the fall, that after 4,000 years of history the cities of the Indus Valley civilization, with their planned layouts and their ground-breaking advanced sewerage systems, have given way to filthy, chaotic cities.

I believe the argument for restoration and preservation for historic buildings is emotional primarily: by protecting these structures, we try to protect our cultural heritage, perhaps maintain some sort of identity and pay respect to the past generations.

But maybe there is an economic angle here, too. One that involves tourism and some incentive for conservation of the historic monuments, because the Sheikhupura Fort, and other such buildings, might be preserved with fancy new grants but if the preservation is not made sustainable somehow, we might be staring at the same crumbling situation a few years from now.

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