A chance visit to Vishrambaug wada got me thinking once again about how little we value what we have until it’s lost for ever.
What was once the residence of the mighty Peshwas of Pune, is now a dusty and dilapidated looking structure, its imposing carved wooden facade seems overwhelmed by the constant stream of humanity that passes it by. Most of it is now occupied by offices of the Municipal Corporation and we all know what bright and cheerful places they can be.
The stone steps at the entrance are littered with garbage and we picked our way across to reach two dingy looking flights of stairs leading to the ‘pradarshani’ or exhibition. Two men were seated at a wooden table inside a room that overlooked the quadrangle within the wada. The quadrangle itself was an enclosure with dirty stone tiles and random clutter piled in the corners.
We paid the modest entry fee and one of the men- an elderly slow-moving gentleman- heaved himself to his feet to show us around. The narrow corridors were dimly lit, there was dust everywhere, and a general air of forlorn neglect.
The walls had faded-looking posters with information about the history of Pune written in Marathi and (mostly) grammatically incorrect English with misspelled words sprinkled around. Our guide pointed to each and mumbled a few barely audible lines about them . We proceeded from one room to the next. The main hall had a seat where the Peshawa used to recline. It was a mattress covered with a tacky golden cloth and two side cushions of garish red. Some curtains hung limply from the pillars.
Our guide pointed listlessly to some carvings and paintings, mumbling all the while. By then I had stopped straining to listen and moved ahead while my companion attempted to follow what was being told. From the windows came the noise, heat and dust of the city.
We reached the end of our tour and paid the guide’s fees. For me, the best part of the tour was when I listened appreciatively to my friend telling the guide and his colleague what exactly she thought of how the place was kept and how (badly!) the tour was conducted. She didn’t mince her words, decimated all their feeble protests and we marched out, picking our way back through the litter and the clutter.
Before we left, however, one of them told us that there was another part of the ‘wada’ that was much bigger and better maintained. It was opened at certain hours and lit up in the evenings. He also told us how to get there. But when we reached the other entrance, we came up against a large wooden door; firmly locked and no one to tell us how or when one could gain entry. We came away disheartened and resigned.
We bemoan the fact that the younger generation has very little connect to their history and rich culture. We talk about how important it is for us to rediscover our roots and take pride in the legacy of our past. But what we do have, we fail to preserve.
And this will be our legacy to the coming generations- these neglected, falling down relics and monuments where the history of this land played out itself. It’s we who have failed our youngsters. Not they.