Of all things one must know to survive, the need to know where one comes from only torments the Human. We’re scrambling for theories in faith and science. And so we recognize the need to pass and preserve any relics that remain that document this tremendous journey from the Big Bang to the Human Genome Project.

Honorable Mention | RTF Essay Writing Competition

Category: Do We Need To Redefine Our Heritage?
Participant: Vidhi Wadhawan
Profession: Student
University: SPA Bhopal, India

Heritage is our tangible link to answering this fundamental question. It may not be of concern to one whether it all started with the Big Bang or in Six Days at the Design Studio of the Divinity. But, it is of the essence to understand what days of the Calendar are holidays and what are the social norms surrounding it. For us, knowing the immediate explanations, traditions and our proximal heritage suffices in satiating the desire for understanding the story of our personal origin. It retains us as nations, communities, families and well-meaning individuals.

Generations mould the concept of heritage to fulfil the immediate looming curiosity and purposes that enhance survival. Eras are marked with Art movements and design schools and poetry styles and fashion waves. The products of these may or may not survive as they stop answering the new set of questions, but, the stories and recollections and artifacts remain. The answers created more questions and the quest to answer those. These are the heritage.

Simply explaining, no human modified object is obsolete when it comes to its role in documenting the progression of civilization. We may be focusing on modernist and historic styles as heritage, but they derived their heritage from something predating the same. Heritage is that hard rock foundation on which we keep building, tangibly and intangibly. Every embedded piece is essential and dispensable but the belief of its presence contributes more than its physical existence.

Closer home, we link our heritage to symbols like local monuments, heirlooms, family traditions and community festivals. We don’t indulge in them each day, but they guide what we do with every day of ours. Defining Heritage in a language borrowed from a culture whose carriers colonized my ancestor’s sounds ironic but while I do this, it comes more naturally than some of the actual rituals I was taught to execute. My Heritage is the origin of the DNA I carry and also why I hum melodies my conscious self would refuse to recognize at a gathering.

But what comes to me when I think of Heritage are very Tangible icons, daily objects and stories. What has evolved over time are these perceived paraphernalia of Heritage. These shift individually or collectively according to what are the questions we’re asking and the answers we’re seeking from them. Why are all the rooms in our house arranged in the same bed, wardrobe, and door layout? My Grandmother’s childhood home holds answers. Why must all administrative or symbolic structures display expensive stone ornamentation and flags, so many flags? The answer lies in forts and palaces and city walls and how we learnt to perceive them.

When we talk of Built Heritage as we know it today, it is a sizable chunk of the tangible fragments of our collective chronicles. These keep piling and we choose to preserve, romanticize, promote and market the ones that hold more collective value and fit the narrative we’re trying to write for our times.  IS IT TIME TO REDEFINE? Heritage as an abstract concept stands as it must. The imagery and the rendition unfold. And as we approach the Lacuna where challenges are unknown and revolutionary ideas are but common knowledge and habit, the idea of Heritage does demand a fresh coat of incorporating the recent past and building on it.

When the concept of Heritage was introduced to our generation in School, I couldn’t fathom that anything built in steel and glass would be something I’d be writing petitions for to preserve as Heritage. But here we are. Withered, but older and wiser, just like the Hall of Nations. The recent proposal of demolishing the Kala Academy did leave me wondering if our underlying idea of heritage indeed needs renewal at level of policy and a reminder in terms of perceptions. The concept of collective memory and the idea of heritage as a symbol of accumulated knowledge revisited. When an icon of modernity which heralds hope on its initiation becomes dispensable, it must either wither away or gain the cryptic importance of a Heritage Symbol. This vital decision that we make shapes how we tell our history and how cities and civilizations will shape themselves.

As towns grow into cities, cities into metropolitans and metropolitans into urban conglomerations, the built heritage will reinvent itself in myriad forms. While some retain their character at the core, the boundaries will dissolve into standardized modernity. Some will layer themselves to accommodate all the burden posed on them. Some will try to re-forge their identity as the symbols of the upcoming times. But, the heritage identities will linger on as informal Street Names, unexplained Landmarks, Unchanged shop names, busy routes, and local delicacies. The decision of acknowledging them lies on our collective conscious. The argument that affinity towards the retention of past hinders development is what the idea of heritage resolves. Heritage demands recognition. It is a stepping stone to newer things. It is a bridge we’ve crossed but cannot burn down lest we forget where we came from.

Modern Heritage or the redefined concept of Heritage seems to be taking a more intangible form and that to me seems acceptable. The physical available space and resources are shrinking but we have so much room on our virtual clouds. The decisions of physical retention are turning more and more complex. If our modernist structures are unsafe for accommodation and cover essential space, does their demolition actually undermine their contribution, if we just ensure that the knowledge and innovation they represented will not be lost to the Pride of the ones superseding them. Our fortunate generation of abundance allows for retention and preservation in ways more than absolute safeguard. Criticism, comparison and compassion in effort, thought, written matter, imagery, narratives and media contribute more to collective memory than meagre existence.

As the direct volume of built heritage diminishes, its retentive value grows. The treasure of archaeological discoveries we have been gifted are answers that we found through fortune and give us missing links. The deliberate reconstruction also reeks of feeding into the existing narrative.  The new idea however remains to retain the knowledge and knowingly pass it over without missing links. While we decide to do away with mindless preservation and resort to documentation and memoirs for heritage retention, the physical aspect is not to await the doom in our hands. Each element grows its term and like, Indraprastha grew into NCR with its collective symbols, each element will find its place in the fresh world.

So, as we enter the post pandemic era of virtual museum tours and zoo walkthroughs, Heritage, built and unbuilt, will notice a shift. And every time something commonplace is referred to as heritage by anyone who sees it that way, assume an improvisation of the same is in the pipes.


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