Her Rai on Conservation

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Her Rai on conservation

An architect, who is also a conservationist, she is busy trying to protect monuments and heritage sites in Punjab. She completed her graduation in architecture from Chandigarh and married the famous photographer Raghu Rai. Aftershifting to Delhi, she did her Masters in architectural conservation. He first assignment was with INTACH, where she was given the task of documentation and listing of historical buildings along the G.T. Road. She was a part of a team of 10 people comprising geographers, historians, architects etc.

While working with INTACH, she travelled a lot. "I was not happy travelling throughout the country. I was working in Jaisalmer and realised that there were too many problems. I came to the conclusion that I should concentrate only on one area. Since I understood Punjab and its culture, the climate and the material used, I decided to work there."

"I started mobilising the money for the project myself. I took my plans to UNESCO, UNDV, ASI, and the Government of India," says Gurmeet. They have identified 800 heritage buildings in Punjab. The modus operandi is to list the building, identify the problems, train local people to help in the conservation of the building plus the surrounding area and use local material to rebuild it. Work is in progress in Kishan Mandir, Kishankot village, Dargah of Baba Shah Badrdiwan, and many other places. Gurmeet come to Punjab every week. In fact, she spends more than six months in a year in the region. She has received no support from the Punjab government. Other agencies are funding the work. "The villagers understand the need for conservation.But our project needs trained personnel who can guide the local people to preserve their heritage. There is a lot of work for architects and conservationists," says Gurmeet.

Gurmeet, who has also worked in America, is of the view that the difference in the work ethos in both the countries is tremendous. While there it is the community which generates funds to conserve, here only individuals and certain organisations feel the need to do so. As Gurmeet put it, "Here you still have people saying a poor country cannot afford the luxury of conserving old buildings without realising that it is our culture which binds us and provides a soul to a nation."

Gurmeet feels, "Systems in every sphere have to be in place. NGOs alone cannot put them in place. The government has to take the initiatives, be it while preserving heritage, culture or whatever." However, she is hopeful and feels the people are becoming aware. Soon they will demand that old, historical monuments are looked after. With the 73rd and 74th amendments, the local people will identify areas of concern and generate funds.

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