The Tenth Anniversary

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 18 Sep 2010

 

For all those who had an opportunity to attend a meeting held in the Raj Bhawan on the proposed Cultural Centre for the capital city of our state on the 16th of September 2010 the occasion appeared like an inauguration of the Tenth Anniversary of the State Foundation Day celebrations. For this writer it was arguably the most comprehensive meeting on the theme of Culture he had had an occasion to attend during the past ten years of his stay in the city and he mentioned it in so many words to Governor Margaret Alva, the prime mover of the initiative. It was not just comprehensive but it was highly inclusive as well. Besides the Governor herself, representing the concern at the very top, the implementers of the initiative included the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary, the Principal Secretary handling the portfolio of Culture, and nearly the who is who of the art and culture world of the state, representing all the three major branches i.e. literary, performing arts and cultural. Two former Chief Secretaries, Indu Pande and this writer, went on to make the event look as serious as it could have ever been possibly made.

 

Governor Sudarshan Agarwal

In the post lunch period former Governor Sudarshan Agarwal's presence was a good reminder to all of us as to what a pro-active Head of the State has been able to do. Remember the Red Cross Society's Blood Bank, Him Jyoti school ( for the girls of the poorest sections ), an outstanding publication on Naini Tal Raj Bhawan and not to be forgotten the Muskan ( split – lip ) initiative ? Former Governor Agarwal's continued interest in the state might see a similar school for the girls of poorest sections in the eastern part of the state, in Kumaon region. Uttarakhand indeed has been very fortunate in its gubernatorial incumbents, touch wood. Their efforts have been appreciated by no less than the former President Kalam in one of the annual Governors' meet in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. One of the decisions of the meeting very naturally  related to making the coffee-table book publication on the Raj Bhawan being made available to a much larger section of readership through a commercial re-print on a larger scale.                                                                                                                     

 

On the Cards

What is on the cards was explained at some length by the Cultural Secretary Rakesh Sharma; a State Cultural Centre, spread over an eight acre site adjoining the Institute of Hotel Management in Garhi Cantt area overlooking the sub-montane hills of the Shivaliks. This Hotel Management Institute was the first for the state, located at the site in the very first year of the newly carved state. Two Hotel Management Colleges existed in Uttarakhand during the UP days, one in Patel Nagar and another in Almora. It was nice to be told that this institute already stands fifth at all India rating, with respectable placement record. Its three tiers, space for parking two hundred plus cars, huge auditorium, art-gallery, craft-centre, space for souvenir-shops caught attention of the participants. However, the details typically are yet to be fleshed-through and the audience were assured that all of them are going to be involved in its finalization. The architect who is going to factor in all these diverse expectations was also in attendance, taking down notes. One had a feeling that all these details were being shared by the participants, most of whom were the erstwhile members of the State Cultural Council, representing the three wings of the cultural spectrum. It is in that sense that this meeting appeared ' inclusive ' ; as it took into confidence all those who should have been involved in this exercise before this meeting. Cultural Secretary did not speak a word about the former State Cultural Council nor did the participants appeared inquisitive about it. The participants were also informed that the Finance Commission has also allocated funds for the proposed Centre but the actual drawl for the same will not be before the ensuing financial year.       

 

Divergent Expectations

Not unexpectedly all participants had their individual world-view of what they expect from this proposed Cultural Centre and it is going to be quite a task for any Task Force that might be asked to tackle and factor in all of these. How much one wished that each of the participants was allowed to have his full say and this opportunity was used to draw up an action-plan which was both short term and long term. However, it was also necessary that the participants remained focus on the job in hand, namely get the Culture Centre kick started and put in motion. All told about a dozen participants were able to put across their concerns as well as expectations. One hopes that the proceedings of this meet are able to capture all the salient points. This writer could gather the following.

 

Speakers presentations, concerns and expectations covered the following aspects in the main :

 

              ( i )  Infrastructure,

             ( ii )  Activities,

            ( iii )  Funds and resources, and

            ( iv )  Management of the Centre.

Infrastructure

So this meeting turned out to be essentially a curtain –raiser showing and sharing what the citizens and the interested individuals and cultural institutions could expect from the state by way of a state level cultural Centre in a few years' time. The take away was that not much has been fleshed through and those who are going to be responsible are yet to involve all the stake-holders, mostly citizens with certain commitments towards promotion of one aspect of state's culture ( show-casing ) or those catering to the artistic hunger of this highly literate state. Governor Alva shared how frequently she has been presented with books and other literary out puts where ever she goes and she offered to gift all these to the Doon Library and Research Centre, which she hoped would one day be housed as one wing of the proposed Centre. She desired that one section of the Library be dedicated to all books and literary outputs of the authors belonging to this state alone. Ratan Singh Jaunsari used this occasion to present to her one set of his latest books, just to illustrate the point !    

 

The Centre, spread over eight acres of land will have ( have  to have ) space for ' Crafts-display ',' show-casing Uttarakhand cultural richness ', ' Performances ', ' Artists Gallery', 'Art Gallery, personal donation promised by Lochan', ' A Children's Corner ', ' Children's Library, with Bal Bhawan's support ' ,' has to come up in a phased manner, may be three phases, planned for Silver Jubilee in  2025 ', ' purely non-political', ' secular, respecting all religions ', ' co – managed by the Government and the public' ( Governor Alva ) ; ' Souvenir –shop ', ( Hugh Gantzer ) ; and an 'Auditorium, with walls displaying local craftsman-ship', ' Cafetaria, with fast-food and local ethnic–food stalls ', ' Car parking space ',  'Partitioning arrangements, customizing space requirement , 250, 500 and 1,000 ' ( Rakesh Sharma ). Some wished this Centre to display ' Himalayan Heritage, local dresses, without any prohibitions, using natural lights, local traditions, should not display originals but only copies, as originals brought in security with restrictive ambience which ought to be avoided in this Centre' ( Gantzer ); some wished this Centre to be built around ' village-life concept ', ' with village ambience ', ' is it for the public or just the elite ? ' ( Mayor Vinod Chamoli ). Issues like 'lack of concern for support of cultural expression in remote regions of hills, so rich in their tradition' ( Lila Dhar Jugudi ), ' its specific role and nature' ( D. R. Purohit ) and ' objectives ' ( S. K. Muttoo ) were very naturally raised as these were to define the size, shape and over-all ambience of its architecture. All these certainly deserve to be attended to and addressed before a final blue-print is laid out.

 

It was explained that what is being presently addressed is the immediate and current ' felt-need ' of an infrastructure to perform and host various cultural events in Dehra Dun. It was shared very graphically how a performance of Shobha Mudgil was recently organized with barely a hand-full of  spectators to listen to her under heavy rains, with the singer herself, the CM and few other VIPs holding umbrellas over their heads for protection ! '( Rakesh Sharma ). Detailed architectural plans had indeed been prepared but it remained unexplained as to why such a delay has taken place in expending funds which were sanctioned by the Tenth Finance Commission ( Indu Pande). No such plans have so far been brought to the knowledge of the authorities so far ( Governor Alva) and it was therefore imperative to ensure that efforts mounted in the past do not remain without any follow-up, a major reason for delays in the state. It was desired that to ensure a rigorous follow-up of today's detailed discussion a Task Force should be constituted and it is ensured that no delay takes place this time ( Governor Alva ).       

 

Activities

Most of the activities automatically got defined by the infrastructural details which were shared by the departmental representatives and hope fully the discussion held today underlined and underscored those which had been visualized by the various stake-holders who spoke on the occasion. On the Literary side the various Libraries, Research Centres, including the one specifically catering to the requirements of our future generation; Artists and Art Galleries for the artists, photographers and sculpturers and auditoriums, seminar rooms for the performing artists and art historians indicated a whole range of cultural expressions proposed to be hosted by the Centre.

 

It was also specifically mentioned that the Centre was not visualized to act as an Academy, Institute or Training Centre for conducting various cultural courses, or film-production, if such an expression could be used for such activities. It was explained that for these activities Bhatkhande Center was very actively engaged for such activities and right now a 'Symphony of Uttarakhand' was under preparation which would attempt to use all musical instruments used in Uttarakhand in its composition. Cultural artists of  Uttarakhand are stated to be sent out every month in groups of 30-40 for performing in various events held outside. ( Rakesh Sharma )    

 

Some felt that the Centre should commence its work forth-with and need not await physical completion of the buildings of the Centre, a miniscule number of culturally sensitive individuals are already active and they needed the kind of support which the Centre is expected to provide to the artists in the coming future ( DG Police A. B. Lal ) and the suggestion received support by suggesting that the events like the various Exhibitions being regularly held by Mrs Monika Talukdar / Threesh Kapoor / AB Lal be hand-holded and supported forthwith with funds, directly by the government or through the Corporate or private industries sector like the ONGC etc under their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes ( R.S. Tolia ). The ONGC representative informed that on the their suggestion now the state government has nominated one Secretary ( Dr Rakesh Kumar ) to act as the forwarding agency for all such proposals in future and ONGC will be happy to assist all such events under the CSR ( ONGC Mishra ). This is a major breather for the likes of  Doon Society of Arts who had been pursuing the matter for a considerable time now ( Mrs Talukdar and others ).     

 

Funds and Resources

Finance Commission Award of Rs 25 crores for such a Centre is the main corpus available presently against which the estimates are being drawn up ( Rakesh Sharma ). Funds being a major constraint ' implementation has to be phased out, to be undertaken preferably under the Public Private Partnership mode, government and public involved in a true partnership mode, parts like Children library and Art gallery already promised support by the Bal Bhawan and private donations from individuals ( Governor Alva ) and it became apparent that the present activities and proposals which remained dispersed over agencies and time are now likely to receive some serious attention from major Corporates like the ONGC with substantial CRS corpus in a systemic manner ( ONGC Mishra).  

 

Management of the Centre

Silence on this issue on the part of the government indicated that unless a more viable and desirable alternative was forthcoming the proposed Centre might go the way all previous cultural institutions have been manned and managed, strictly by a bureaucratic regime of government posts, which certainly does not have much to commend it. Current wisdom suggests that much of cultural inertia has been on this count alone, with no renowned cultural figure in the ranks of departmental managerial cadre, either on contractual arrangement or on deputation. S. K. Muttoo particularly recommended giving a ' Face to the Organization ' i.e. an individual in the driving seat, with well known cultural credentials, with a specific mission for the Centre, who will drive the Centre and push it on the desirable course of cultural revival and rejuvenation.' Regardless of the absence of an existing scheme of things it seems extremely relevant that the aspect of management, including the leadership role of an individual renowned for his cultural accomplishments, as outlined by Governor Alva and endorsed by the participants today, be given some hard thinking as to very large extent it would be the caliber and vision of an individual, supported by the management structure, which would be able to give practical shape to the proposed Cultural Centre of which the virtually the first exposition could take place in today's meeting.    

 

Governor Alva has issued directions for setting up a Task Force to give shape to what has been discussed today, to which the Chief Minister himself committed eloquently at the very beginning of the meeting, which was elaborated by the Cultural Secretary. Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal ' Nishank ' has held the Culture portfolio in undivided Uttar Pradesh and his personal commitment to show-case Uttarakhand's cultural heritage and tradition stands fully reflected in his several books and publications. Governor Alva has also unequivocally committed herself to not only show-casing Uttarakhand's rich cultural past but by sharing her current on-going efforts on the cultural field has assured all those who had been patiently waiting for 'actions matching spoken words'. Today's vision-sharing first by Governor Alva fully backed by Chief Minister Pokhariyal's personal commitment must have assured various stake-holders of a much more 'inclusive' and pro-active initiatives on the part of those who happened to share what they did share today, in so far as the proposal related to the Cultural Centre was concerned.   

 

Conservation of ' Heritage and Historic Buildings'

The two icings-on-the-cake were indeed reserved for the end of a culturally rich repast we all enjoyed today. Both were shared by Governor Alva herself, displaying a deep sense of her personal commitment to the mission of cultural enrichment of this region and her very own personal views on various cultural themes and vision for their future.                                                                  

Conservation of Heritage buildings of this region is the first concern. She has obtained a list of centrally protected buildings in Uttarakhand furnished by the Archaelogical Survey of India; although the old Heritage Act of UP has been adopted hardly any initiative has been undertaken in this direction so far; Raj Bhawan of Naini Tal has received her extensive attention and various artifacts have now been inventories, many repaired, retrieved from godowns and restored ( chandeliers ), paid the attention they deserved ( old carpets deposited in the cellars for condemnation and auctioned ! ) and the officials of the Public Works Department directed to develop a certain sense of appreciation of cultural maintenance ( leaving the old wood-works in their pristine hues rather than being painted in bright colours, covering their finesse with thick paint – coatings and re-coatings ! ). Teams of experts are now being co-opted for all restoration works both inside the Raj Bhawan and elsewhere. Her exposition assured one and all that the Heritage buildings now has a genuine protector at the very helm of cultural affairs in the state and one could expect better treatment of our Heritage Buildings. Uttarakhand's Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic and Sikh religious traditions have a very rich collection of such monuments, some of which have mercifully received some attention in the immediate past through the ASI regional office. However, ASI's over-flowing cup of liabilities in this regard is unlikely to be reflected in the kind of attention which our heritage buildings do deserve. Some out of the box and PPP mode response e.g. CSR initiatives, charities option will have to be activated, in this field.

 

Governor Alva's exposition of importance of Historic Buildings as a distinct cultural intervention vis a vis Heritage Buildings, was something which attracted every body's attention. Even during the modern era the buildings which are historically associated with the names of Gandhi ( Kausani, Takula near Naini Tal ), Nehru ( Dehradun Jail ( ? ), Almora Jail, old Circuit House ), Vivekanand ( Almora, Mayavati Ashram), Lord Curzon ( Curzon Road ), Henry Ramsay ( Ramsay College, Ramsay's residence in Binsar), George Everest ( George Everest Estate ), scores of Catholic and Methodist Churches and graves of eminent persons, enveloping those belonging belonging to the middle ages ( Jesuit Missionaries, Huen Tsang, Adiguru Shankaracharya ) in the form of halting-places / chattis and paraos with tales of Jim Corbetts and Pahari Wilsons, have a potential to attract tourists to Uttarakhand which remains largely untapped, unexplored. Tourist Guide books covering these Historic Buildings and trekking routes have a potential which not many states could ever hope to rival.    

 

Also in passing

How comprehensive this meeting was, or rather could have been had there been no time constraint, reflected in mention of some other themes of our cultural discourse; and these included, possibility of inclusion of some well known persona active at the national scene hailing from Uttarakhand, co-option of the members of the Uttarakhand Association of North America ( UANA), attention to our rich cultural heritage in our districts ( Lila Dhar Jugudi ), recovering records and manuscripts related to Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh as these remained with the parent state under the Re-organization Act, 2000 ( R. S. Tolia ) and so on.

 

Next Steps

Rural –tourism and heritage-tourism ( mercifully eco-tourism and old Forest Guest Houses were not mentioned, aren't we sick and tired of it ? ) could have found direct attention and mention next,  in terms of encouraging a potential service sector, had a strict adherence to pre-determined time schedule not intervened. By any account it turned out to be a very satisfying repast for all participants as was subsequently shared heartily at the ensuing lunch-break where former Governor Sudarshan Agarwal greeted almost everybody present ; thus ending a day full of new initiatives and promised visions of a culturally vibrant Uttarakhand.

Formation of a Task Force, or an Advisory Group, despatch of  Concept Papers to Secretary Ashok Pai by the participants if they had brought any to share and involvement of all those who should have been there but could not make it for any reason, were a few parting directions which made up Governor Alva's suggestions by way of the Next Steps for the Doon  Cultural Centre.

The Tenth Anniversary of formation of Uttarakhand is just a few weeks away and it is but natural that the ensuing weeks are going to witness a whole range of cultural and other initiatives and events. The opening salvo was fired on the 16th September 2010 from the Raj Bhawan. Let us all celebrate, participate in and renew our resolve to build a prosperous and progressive Uttarakhand, which took birth on 9th November 2000, full ten years ago. 

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