Monumental confusion: To protect, or not to protect, Jama Masjid like Taj Mahal

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It’s a longstanding mystery why the capital’s Jama Masjid remains an un-protected monument. Different benches of the Delhi high court headed by different chief justices have tried to solve this riddle for more than a decade. They searched high and low and finally got their hands on a letter in which then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured “Dear Syed Ahmed Bukhari Sahib” that the Centre would desist from protecting Jama Masjid – in other words, said protection would continue to be said Sahib’s preserve.

Before crying minority appeasement, remember that efforts to bless the Tirupati temple with a heritage tag also got buried. The tag of heritage is unwelcome, perhaps understandably so as long as the tide of offerings flows abundantly. But what’s to be gained, exactly, by becoming a protected monument anyway?

Rabindranath Tagore wrote romantically, “The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” But decades of GoI protection later, that tear has lost its solitude, the river resembles a drain. Romance is a struggle when you wade to it through piles of plastic, splashes of paan and the honking of traffic jams.

Still, there’s much Taj Mahal has to be thankful for. Many monuments under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India have actually disappeared! Culprits range from modern records to modern construction. And if unchecked pollution’s turning it yellow, not to worry, ASI has a secret weapon that it’s been testing out at the Mehrauli park: Whitewash. Global conservationists may turn up their noses, but that’s proper desi jugaad.

As for those disappearing monuments, new age ASI likes to work with RWAs so that neighbourhoods see monuments as part of their property. But they should be a bit careful about encouraging people’s sense of ownership, given that encroachments are already rampant. Uncleji finds his growing family crying for more space, just drags down the wall of a neighbourhood monument and parks his drawing room there.

The republic’s egalitarian spirit means that ancient tombs, Himalayan pine forests and the beautiful turquoise sea of the Andamans can get treated exactly the same – as spittoon, dustbin, public lavatory. The erudite like to sex this up with the broken windows theory, about a building with some broken windows, which are not repaired, then vandals break the rest too, and the next thing you know the whole neighbourhood has gone to hell.

Does this mean we can put the whole blame on the first person who broke the first window? Finding out who that was can be tough. But we do know who set off the romantic bomb that’s been exploding graffiti non-stop: Shah Jahan. Ever since his great ode to love in Agra, lovers feel pressed to set their sentiment in stone too. So next time you go ballistic at the etching – Pappu (heart with arrow) Manju – you know who to blame. The Times of India

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