Past continuous

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 14 April 2018

Ahead of World Heritage Day, Ambika Shaligram chats with conservation and cultural history experts to know how we could reach out to more youngsters and engage them with our tangible and intangible heritage 

History and heritage are two terms that overlap and encompass wide-ranging ideas, thoughts, philosophies and tangible and intangible assets. Therefore sharing of stories and the transfer of knowledge from and between generations is a crucial step in cultural development. This is what the International Council on Monuments and Sites aims to achieve through celebration of World Heritage Day on April 18.

So how do we learn about our heritage and history? The answer is — by visiting monuments, making a trip to art galleries and museums, attending a dance programme to understand our cultural legacy, or walking down the bazaars; learning to make a generation-old recipe of dal or achar; or getting acquainted with our family tree!

The routes to find our roots and connect with them are numerous, say the experts associated with heritage conservation and history. Here they tell us how they are enveloping youngsters in their midst to spread the word about our rich culture...

M for Magic
How does one ‘see’ Mumbai? Through the eyes of its people, the British era structures, by sampling its street food or bargaining in its markets which sell everything that you could want? Deepa Krishnan lists the endless possibilities that one can see and do in Mumbai through her blog — If something piques your interest, you can sign up for the guided tour, through her tour company — Mumbai Magic.

An MBA graduate, Krishnan spent nearly two decades in the corporate world, mainly in banking technology. Her transition into tourism business was organic.

“I travelled widely due to my work, and met people from many countries. My journey in tourism started in my late 30s, when I realised that India has so much more to offer to tourists than just monuments and shopping. So I set up a guided tours company that offers bazaar walks, art walks, food walks, home-cooking, textile trails, craft trails etc. What started as a hobby in 2006 has now become the largest pan-Indian guided tours company in the inbound segment, offering offbeat experiences. Mumbai is our flagship city, and now we have 27 different Magic cities,” explains Krishnan.

A great believer in responsible tourism, Krishnan always wanted to make a positive impact through the tourism business. So she employed and trained students from slums, in order to help them earn and get work experience while they are in college.
“We have created two flagship tours — Mumbai Local and Delhi By Metro, in partnership with local non-profit organisations.

These tours are run by college students from low-income neighbourhoods, and they use local transport (bus, taxi, train, rickshaw, metro, etc) to explore the city. Tourists really enjoy these experiences, because they are offbeat and interesting. The income from the tour is shared between the student guides, the non-profit, and our company, thus providing a winning combination,” she adds.

In Mumbai, the student guides are from Akanksha Foundation and Abhyudaya (an education NGO started by Krishnan). They are selected after they clear the interviews. After their selection, they have to learn the ‘tour script’, after which they go on ‘shadow-tours’ along with an older batch of guides. “The students have learnt a lot about their city after becoming tour guides. When they see something interesting or new, they mention it to us. For example, if there is something new on the menu at Swati Snacks, they will tell us,” explains she. Krishnan also has a tourist programme in Pune, which includes bazaar walk, cuisine tour and sightseeing tours. These are conducted by lady guides, and not college students.

When asked about her thoughts on tangible and intangible heritage, she replies, “India has a rich cultural and architectural heritage — this is not news to anyone. The real issue is, what is the role of tourism in responsibly showcasing this to the world? How do we ensure that our footprint is light, and brings benefits to local communities? Tourism, if unchecked, can become a force for degradation of the environment and culture. Tour operators like us have to take responsibility for making sure that we bring positive impact.”

Look around and dig some more
The exams are over, aren’t they? Children can now breathe, laze or move around and, sing, swim, dance or play. But, instead of getting your parents to understand the Game of Thrones, or pulling a face when your mum suggests ‘carrom’, you can go into the past and develop your own Game of Thrones. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’s (INTACH) Pune chapter is holding a session on traditional indoor games on April 16 and 17. The co-ordinator of the workshop will be talking about and also getting you to play ‘ganjifa’ or ‘wagh-bakri’ and perhaps the age-old snakes and ladder! If this sounds interesting, then hop over to The Doodles Tales Studio in Baner.

The workshop on indoor games is one of the activities that INTACH does. They also conduct a heritage walk planned through city’s old areas, a food walk, a visit to the temples et all. However, the specific mandate that INTACH works on is ‘heritage education’. 

Elaborating on it, Supriya Goturkar Mahabaleshwarkar, co-ordinator for INTACH Pune, says, “Our heritage needs to be conserved and documented, but unless people know what they have, they won’t conserve. Hence we have a strong focus on heritage education and awareness. To achieve it, we work on different levels. One is open events including heritage walks and workshops, for which anyone can join. We have at least one open activity in a month. We have also tied up with various schools and colleges in the city. We hold sessions, presentations on history, architecture and conservation and establish a dialogue between experts and students. In March, we did an activity titled ‘College Forum’ with Sinhagad College of Architecture on the theme of Sustainability and Conservation of Architecture. Not just architecture students, but students of engineering and environment studies and law were also a part of it. We wanted the participation to be as broad-based as possible. For instance, if a student of law gets interested in policies related to environment and architecture, it’s great! Why limit it only to students of architecture?”

The organisation is also working with school students. In February, a nation-wide ‘Routes to Roots’ poster-making competition was held. “We wanted children to introduce themselves to their roots. They had an open canvas to express themselves; the children could write poetry, paint, learn a new language, visit a wada in the neighborhood or write about a dance programme. The results will be announced in June,” she says, adding, “We usually have one or two programmes earmarked for schools.”

INTACH also organises planned visits to Tambat Aali — a lane in old Pune, where traditional artisans work on crafting copper utensils and modern day accessories. Mahabaleshwar believes that heritage conservation has to happen every single day of the year. Why limit it to just one day?

To know more, visit

History is personal 
In her recent interaction with the history teachers in a city school, Bilwa Kulkarni, education officer of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), requested them to not rush the students through the museum and insist on seeing everything that has to be seen in the various galleries.

Elaborating on it, Kulkarni says, “Museums offer children learning opportunities like no other place. With real objects that they can see up close, it reinforces their imagination in the right direction supported by interpretations of facts. For this, it is most important for children to look at the object carefully and then look again. Rushing through all the galleries with the intention of seeing everything, the children are likely to see nothing, thus not achieving the learning goals hoped for by the teacher. In fact, more impactful learning is likely to take place when children are given focussed assignments in the museum, one particular gallery or a few objects pertaining to a theme. This allows them to look, reflect and research on the object. For that it is necessary for teachers, when visiting museums to plan well, reach out to museum staff and seek their suggestions to define clear objectives of the visit and create a visit plan accordingly.”

The CSMVS team has also come up with ‘Museum on Wheels’ programme ( a Citi-CSMVS Outreach Initiative), which brings the museum to you, if you can’t visit it. The team plans a theme and the exhibits are installed in the bus accordingly.

Interestingly, the exhibits are the replicas of the original artefacts — which means you can touch and feel the objects. History becomes personal! More tangible! 

“The Museum on Wheels current exhibition ‘India & the World’ will be closing in the last week of April. Since it takes about six weeks to install a new exhibition, the bus will begin touring only from June 2018. The topic of the next exhibition is about history of money in India, starting from barter to the modern banking system,” informs Kulkarni.  

The CSMVS also holds a summer workshop for school students so that they get a hands-on experience of knowing and working for their heritage. Says she, “Every year, the museum plans ‘Summer Fun’, a flagship programme. Summers are about holidays, fun and creativity. That is the objective in mind while planning the summer programme. The workshops are mostly based on art but connecting the children with museum.”

The museum also offers summer internships for students to gain work experience. The annual internships are announced around July. 
To know more, visit

Related News