SELECTIVE AMNESIA OF NAVIN CHAWLA
Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, who started his career as Delhi Metropolitan Council official had served in Pondicherry as Secretary of Culture and Ports, and also had been Secretary in of Town and Country Planning. After climbing to reach great heights to become Chief Election Commissioner of this great democracy, suddenly his views appeared in The Hindu dated 16th August of 2012 Open-Editorial page while we thought he has forgotten Pondicherry in his retirement.
A heritage, all at Sea is his article. Let me remind him of our heritage. I wrote in New Indian Express on June 4th of 2005 under the title Saving the Coast, hence I was happy about Navin Chawla’s concern for the Pondicherry Coast. “As per the study by the School of Earth Sciences of Bharathidasan University before 1.5 million years ago sea extended up to Madurai. Around 90,000 years ago Chennai, Pondicherry and Vedaranyam were encircled by seas. Since sea level subsided 65,000 years ago India and Ceylon got connected. When sea level rose by 27,000 years ago both parted and when sea level fell by 17,000 years ago joined again to part again”. I have quoted from the report in my article. So we are thinking of our heritage not limiting our vision to the colonial period but to those past which is emerging from darkness.
Over 2 lakh years old fossilized skull found
PTI Mar 31, 2003, 12.29am IST
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A well-fossilized human skull, dating back to over two lakh years, has been found from within ferricrete at a site near Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu, in a geo-archaeological exploration conducted at the site.
Besides being one of the oldest hominid fossils to be found in India, the study of the find could challenge the widely held theory that a fossil would not remain intact for long in ferricrete without sediment intrusion, Dr P Rajendran, UGC professor-scientist and archaeologist at the Department of History, Kerala University, who conducted the exploration said.
It is known fact the human race emanated from East Africa 1.60 million years ago, and if so when there is a discovery of a fossilized baby dating back to almost same age, is it not our heritage, and should we Pondicherrians not proclaim that ancient homo-sapiens had their home in our soil.
In and around Pondicherry 535 stone inscriptions have been found, out of which 4 are in Sanskrit, 2 in Kannada, 1 in Latin ,2 in French and 1 in Armenian. Should we not preserve these heritages and should we only preserve few colonial style buildings.
The rest in 535 stone inscriptions 16 Chola Emperors, 8 Pandyan Emperors, 2 Later Pallava Emperors, and 13 Vijayanagara Emperors have inscribed their legacy in Tamil. Is it wrong to call these history as our past, and should we only think of 1800 colonial style houses declared by Indian National Trust for Arts and Heritage Pondicherry chapter in 1995 as our heritage relics. Navin Chawla laments that half of these houses have undergone changes invoking the fundamental right of the legally rightful owners of these houses to construct or alter or re-construct their houses or dwellings in whichever architectural style of their choice. Nowadays with increasing thefts, burglary, house breaking and anti-socials on the prowl, is it prudent to keep houses with thinnai , and without compound or fencing inviting anyone to sleep in the frontal areas of these houses with French architectural style.
We are not having pyramids in Pondicherry that calls for preservation. We have not built Kallanai dam like Karikal Cholan or Tanjavor Temple like Raja Raja Cholan. Nor is it that we have unearthed within the four boulevards, a site like in Indus Valley, hence to call the area within four boulevards of Pondicherry as if it is Jerusalem is not logical that needs preservation. The book written by Jean Deloche titled Origins of Urban Development of Pondicherry according to 17 th Century Dutch plans about which I wrote in New Indian Express on 13 th November 2004, reveals that “the Dutch plans of Pondicherry preserved at the National Archives in the Hague show that the orthogonal street pattern of the town is a creation of the Dutch. The plans of 1693 show that in Francoise Martin’s times the streets or lanes followed an irregular pattern without any shape or symmetry whereas the plans drafted in 1694 during the Dutch occupation one finds the design of a large new town with a regular geometric lay out rectangular blocks of houses separated by straight streets, intersecting at right angles.”
My humble query is should not the Dutch legacy be hailed, and why Town and Country Planning Department of Pondicherry over which Navin Chawla’s rule too existed for some years, failed to follow the Dutch design when the sub urban areas beyond 4 boulevards of Pondicherry developed rapidly, and with real estate boom everywhere in agricultural lands lay outs propped up and concrete jungles mushroomed, and are we to demolish those townships to bring back the symmetrical pattern of the areas within four boulevard to cover entire town that has grown beyond control and without foresight Town and Country Planning of Pondicherry went into slumber for decades, almost half a century.
Multi storey buildings and flat system were absent in French rule. But when Pondicherry integrated with Indian Union, the architectural style of rest of India made its head way here, and with increase in population even within the so called white town, where in 1995 INTACH identified 300 buildings as heritage buildings, multi storey flats have come up. Our women used to wear saree and blouses, now chudidars and pyjamas have caught up and even jeans t-shirts have replaced pavadai and thavani ? Are we going to say to preserve our heritage our girls and women should wear only those old fashioned dresses and not wear modern dress? A Temple or a Fort or a Pyramid or An Archeologically declared site like Arikamedu can be rightfully called our heritage. Colonial architecture which is out of fashion in modern India looses its relevance. We are part of India and are bound to be influenced by construction designs that prevail in rest of India.
In the first scientific excavations conducted in 1945 and published in the book Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers  Mortimer Wheeler left “ an impression of a sleepy village suddenly awakened by enterprising Romans who built stone buildings and a Port, then fell back to sleep when Roman’s left” opines Francis Peter Junior.
From the arretine pottery table wares used by the Romans found there Mortimer Wheeler came to the conclusion that Roman trade flourished between 14 th B.C to 25 B.C. Jean Mari Casal conducted his excavations between 1947 and 1950 opined that much before Romans advent Arikamedu was a prosperous Port dating back to 250 B.C. People of that place were civilized from Iron Age claims Jean Mari Casal who found gold jewels in the burial sites of Suthukeni and was stunned by the prosperity of the people. Whatever may be the dating, the Port of Arikamedu is centuries ahead of colonial entry into Pondicherry soil. Are we to uphold our Indian legacy and heritage or are we going to attach importance to preserve an old prison building in main market area of Nehru Street, instead of allowing its demolition to build a parking area for the crowded market zone?
The proposed plans of how beach road would look like after INTACH mooted modifications are carried out as shown in the website of Pondicherry chapter of INTACH shows the Mahatma Gandhi statue missing? Are these men inside an Indian National Trust contemplating to throw Mahatma Gandhi into Bay of Bengal to reclaim the beach in their way of colonial legacy preservation? May be even Jawaharlal Nehru statue installed on the pedestal of Dupleix statue would be an eyesore to these saviors of colonial heritage. They may even bring down Jawaharlal Nehru statue and install Dupleix once again in his original place occupied during colonial era.
You would have seen protests in Indian cities, which is an every day affair. Have you heard that the weavers of London protested in the streets of London in 1700 demanding ban on import of Indian textiles. Indian textiles were far superior to British products and weavers of British Isles forced their government to ban Indian textiles. The excavations in Red Sea ports and Dutch maritime records reveal that once upon a time India was the couturier of the world. Ms.Rosemary Crill of the V& A Museum of London along with co-authors Ruth Barnes and Steven Cohen published a book Trade, Temple and Court Indian Textiles from Tapi Collections, wherein she states “The East India Company was founded in 1600 to sell British woolen cloth to India, their ships arrived in India in Surat [of Gujarat] in 1608 with vast quantities of broadcloth but the trade soon faltered and died out. What changed their fortune was the discovery of cotton, which was completely unknown in Europe.” Till 18th century from 10 th century, Indian weavers were unbeatable in world markets. In fact most of them were Tamil weavers.
Recently speaking at the Historical Society of Puducherry, Professor Orse M.Gobalakichenane who published the Veera Naicker’s diary 1778-1792 admitted that even in France, French weavers protested against import of textiles from French India namely Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe, Yenam and Chandranagore. Quoting Veera Naicker’s diary Professor Orse.M.Gobalakichenane narrated on how the kaikolars, the Tamil community of weavers were taken on three year contract to French colonies to teach local weavers, weaving techniques. I intervened and asked, why France took weavers from Puducherry, whereas they could have brought from their France. Economics apart, it became evident by the Professor’s reply that French weavers protested Puducherry textiles leading to the logical conclusion that our weavers were far superior in their skills which made them wanted species every where.
Is it not the duty of Indian National Trust for Heritage to preserve this heritage by reviving the weaving techniques that were the envy of even western countries.
Pondicherry is an intermediary port, and when Thiru. P. Shanmugam was Chief Minister; I suggested that this Port be handed over to Singapore Government owned Singapore Port Trust so that it can be used as transshipment harbor. Since there is nothing much to export from or import to industries around Pondicherry, if this had been made a transshipment harbor it would have eased congestion in Singapore Port and brought revenue to Puducherry Government. Unfortunately my plea went unheeded. Successive Chief Ministers developed it as fishing harbor. If it should be fishing harbor, fish cold storage facilities should exist there. Fish or prawn packing preserving and export processing industry must have been set up within the harbor. Nothing happened. The rulers forgot that during French regime had built a tunnel beneath the backwaters 100 meters away from coast near Port’s mouth which starts from Vambakeerapalayam and reaches Veerampattinam. This underwater tunnel was used by fishermen in that colonial era. This tunnel, a heritage tunnel obstructs flow of water from sea or sand from river into the seas. There is a dredger, often given on contracts to powerful media or politicians and never to Dredging Corporation of India, a Government of India enterprise.
So vessels entering harbor is next to impossible dream. Fishing vessels get struck as dredging is not done by professionals and adding to the complexity of the problem is the hidden under water tunnel, which Government is neither ready to break nor ready to study on how to keep the mouth of the river hindrance free for shipping boats to reach the fishing harbor.
So Navin Chawla’s single point agenda in supporting INTACH, Pondicherry chapter which wants to get rid off the Gandhiji’s statue in Beach, as pictures by their proposed modernization of beach picture shown in their website has no justification even in the name of upholding colonial legacy, when many buildings which are newly built or remodeled within white town or even in Beach does not resemble the buildings that existed in French India. The proposed picture of Nehru Street, the main market area of Pondicherry, which perhaps INTACH wants to rename as Dupliex Street, shows trees in the pavements and street appears to be converted into a park. Are our business people aware of the INTACH plan to make Nehru Street only usable by pedestrians and cars and two-wheelers to be barred from entering?
Indians won freedom from colonialism but some vested interests are for clinging to colonial past, and that too in architecture only. Let Navin Chawla get rid of his selective amnesia.
One such colonial building Post Office of Pondicherry, faced roof collapse creating fears in the minds of post men who agitated for rebuilding the Post office as suggested by PWD than window dressing by INTACH. Similar fate awaits and let buildings fall and kill people but we who allowed rebuilding of Ariankuppam bridge of colonial legacy wont allow buildings in white town, INTACH may proclaim . Long live sadists of INTACH.