Kavas Kapadia Article - Altering the geography of history

Altering the Geography of History | Kavas Kapadia on Omission of History Chapters

In response to the omission of certain elements from history books, Architect Planner Prof Kavas Kapadia reflects on the different verticals of history with regard to architecture.
Kavas Kapadia Article - Altering the geography of history

From time to time, the present ruling power seeks an alternative view to, amongst other lesser reasons, inculcate a sense of  “national pride”.

Prof Kavas Kapadia

The recent announcement of the Central government on the issue of revision of the NCERT syllabus for classes 11 and 12th, especially in history has failed to evoke a strong public reaction. Should we, the community of architects be concerned?

Before jumping to any conclusion about the effects one needs to understand the much wider and far-reaching ramifications as perhaps already premeditated by the state.

In the guise of lightening the burden of the course- the most unguarded territory in any syllabus is the subject of history. Unlike physics, chemistry, and mathematics (PCM), historical study implies a significant dose of interpretation and even emotion. History validates the current beliefs and prejudices of society. 

Architecture illustrates the same in physical manifestation. And yet, from time to time, the present ruling power seeks an alternative view to, amongst other lesser reasons, inculcate a sense of  “national pride”.

Historians…expect their work to be superseded again and again. They consider that the knowledge of the past has come down through one or more human minds, has been “processed” by them, and therefore cannot consist of elemental and impersonal atoms which nothing can alter….The exploration seems to be endless and some impatient scholars take refuge in scepticism or at least in the doctrine that, since all historical judgments involve reason and points of views one is as good as other and there is no “objective’ truth.

-The Cambridge modern history. Its origin, authorship and production, Sir George Clark.

The proposed revisions though are not necessarily the result of any such scholarly discourse but rather a simple desire to get rid of inconvenient events and individuals who are considered as not worthy of “ national pride”. Truth be told the emergence of a new ideology of equating the anti-government to anti-national, in disregard to established democratic norms, the party hopes to gain larger control over the anticipated new civic culture. The history textbook “rationalization” is a large part of this exercise.

In a country where the mythological and the historical are readily inter replicable in the list of national villains, who better to start with than the “outsiders’- the Mughals? As if replacing the names of places and roads with the logic of ancient wisdom was not enough, in the opinion of the bureaucracy the banal act of obliterating an established and prominent empire from the textbooks might create the desired effect. This must be seen for what it is, one step in the overall pattern to whip an anti-religious feel amongst the predominant Indian populace. The communal cauldron is kept on the boil by continually locating targets at different geographic locations.

Having taken care of the Mughal Empire comes the issue of liberating ourselves from the burden of the ‘British colonial subjugation’.

This formidable obstruction to the newly created sense of nationalism needs to be tackled at many levels, changing the names of places, some by installing the statues of forgotten heroes and others in a grand manner by constructing a whole new parliament building. In a haste to achieve political gains, basic principles of aesthetics and democratic procedures are put away on the shelf. The resulting outcome is that the buildings are an expensive rehash of mall architecture witnessed all over the country and the statues stand awkwardly in unsuitable canopies for the purpose.

Another attempt in this direction is the proposed amendment of the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Amendment bill, in order to impart a new definition to the term “monument” since the current definition of age of at least 100 years, ends up including a majority of monuments/ places of importance of the British era. The decision of such a revision reeks of cynicism, when in order to shed our burden of “colonial past” and emphasize national importance at the cost of the threat of impending de-notification of nearly 3700 centrally protected monuments. This would mean that the mandatory protection ring of open land of 100M of no construction and 200M of regulated construction around a monument would now be subject to Ad hoc examination on case to case basis. The construction code around monuments –unlike the uniform civil code being thrust on the entire populace is – not sacrosanct.

Architectural creations merit the understanding of the entirety of the geographical, socio-cultural and very often political climate of the era. More than anything else, these structures are a warehouse of knowledge of the prevailing structural techniques and man’s response to natural elements through time. That, in itself, is a great learning experience. No other buildings convey these messages more than religious buildings and monuments proclaiming the might and grandeur of the ruling class.

We are living in very volatile times. Sectarian and ethnic violence has left an estimated 90 million (2021) war-ravaged refugees in the world. This trend is globally on the rise.

Young boys growing up in these camps, playing with guns do not enact cops and robbers but rather as defenders of their territory against the invader/oppressor.

This image of the oppressed as the enemy- is the outcome of a prolonged policy of indoctrination of hate and illustrates the diminishing tolerance of the ruling power.

Religious buildings are repositories of the collective socio-cultural beliefs of the era supported by political power and technological know-how.

Prof Kavas Kapadia

Roman monuments, Byzantine churches/ mosques, Spanish Alhambra, Indian temples, and Gothic churches are landmarks of the eternal legitimacy of the prevailing times. They all need to be viewed with respect and admiration keeping personal prejudices under control.

When children are programmed to grow up hating others, they turn into stone-hearted individuals living for revenge. Angry “extremists”  do not blink an eyelid for executing destruction as drastic as blowing up the great statue of Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Sectarian hatred gets concentrated on religious buildings. Since modern architecture has no religion, the targeting is directed to the symbols of prosperity and in turn breeds inequity practised and perpetuated by the opposition. Like the attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai or the more dramatic razing of the world trade towers, the aftermath of which was a horrific long drawn reprisal that left a couple of countries totally devastated.

The political climate is ripe today to be able to induce in youngsters a deep sense of guilt at having not studied and or bypassed -or not studied in detail – the opportunity to study “Indian” history as opposed to world history (read Architecture ).

Prof Kavas Kapadia

Even at home when there are scores of temples and mosques crying out for restoration, the political agenda concentrate on a few new projects that ensure political returns. The practice of such political patriotism creates a shade of mistrust towards the art and architecture of the “others” in a blind desire to compare every artistic creation with “ours”. The satisfaction of self-acknowledgement that ours is better in every sense, is the reward in itself, for such self-inflicted inferiority.

Architects are groomed to render the socio-cultural milieu in space and time. From the simplest of earthen structures of Sana city in Yemen to the mind-boggling techno-scripted shapes of Zaha Hadid’s works, there are numerous examples available on the global stage. One needs to keep an open mind to be receptive to the whole story. Every building tells a story.

Mughal architecture has as much to teach as Buddist, Hindu or the rootless building form that has infested our cities and countryside since the easy access to RCC construction.

Prof Kavas Kapadia

One hopes that the mindset of the younger lot who opt to study Architecture in future is not conditioned to the extent that they would be patronizing the architecture of other cultures.

That would then have completed the mission of the state to eradicate the influence of the “foreign element” from our land, plunging us deeper into academic insensibility camouflaged as ‘nationalism”.

Featured Image Credits
Faizulla | Wikimedia Commons
Torn paper effect: Rajesh Advani and Kavas Kapadia

3 Responses

  1. Unfortunately our senior Architects are indulging themselves in wrong narrative.
    Instead of worrying about the future of future Architects they are worried about history books.
    Even if certain chapters are “modified” in school books they should not waste time on such issues.
    They should be more concerned about modifying the syllabus of Architecture course being taught in Architecture institutions for ages without modifications.

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