SHIKARPUR: “Preserving heritage is not a romantic or emotional issue. It is the need of the hour,” said well-known architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz during his keynote address at the ‘Promoting Heritage Awareness’ conference on World Monuments Watch Day-2014 organised by the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh and the Heritage Cell, NED University, Karachi, on the premises of Government School Shikarpur here on Thursday.

Sharing his unhappiness at the city of Shikarpur, once boasting rich architectural heritage, brought to ruin by the people in favour of progress, Mr Mumtaz said: “Progress is the aim of societies all over the world. But progress does not mean that people should trample over their culture and heritage. But, sadly, culture and heritage are being linked to history, which no one seems to have the time to learn from. Science and technology are given more importance. But growth for the sake of growth is like cancer,” he said.

“Cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge cannot be lost. It keeps one on track on the path of progress. Currently, the speed at which we are busy in self-destruction in the name of progress, we will soon need other planets to move to.”

A screen presentation by Prof Dr Anila Naeem, who has done extensive research on Shikarpur and its old buildings, served as an eyeopener on the occasion. The presentation provided the story of the city as the hub of progress and gateway of trade, the headquarters of traders, bankers and government officials at one time. But after the British Raj, it slowly started losing its significance for trade when Karachi became a port and trade started happening through the sea. It was said that as jobs shrank, the city, too, started losing its significance.

‘The speed at which we are busy in self-destruction in the name of progress, we will soon need other planets to move to’

Today, new construction in Shikarpur has given way to ruin as wooden doors, windows and balconies with intricate designs are taken out to be bought by people at high prices to be installed in their modern villas in other big cities.

Prof Dr Noman Ahmed, chairman of the department of architecture and planning, NED university, said research on the historical city of Shikarpur was going on. “We aim to preserve heritage not just for ourselves but for the benefit of our coming generations as well.

“The culture of Shikarpur, at one time, provided countless dividends for the population. There is a lot of literature available on Shikarpur that tells us about the grandeur of the city,” said MNA Aftab Shaban Mirani before reading out several portions describing the city in the olden days. Lamenting the destruction of historical buildings here, he recommended to the people of the city to scout and stop the old buildings from being dismantled and their artefacts in the form of old wooden doors, windows and balconies from being sold.

“This plundering must end. Earlier there was no law to save heritage but since such a law came about and was passed in 1998, it has not been implemented in the real sense,” he said.

Hameed Akhund, one of the trustees of the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh, appealed to the people of Shikarpur to take care of their heritage. “I know you are well aware of the historical significance of your city. Don’t bring down your houses for a few extra rupees in exchange for the riches in them,” he said.

Adding that the city needed a museum, he said: “We have requested the government for this and were told that the old prison building here can be renovated and turned into a museum. What you the people of Shikarpur can do now is make a watch guard society that can approach the people breaking down their houses and other historic buildings and offer to buy the artifacts from those places which can then be housed in the museum.”

He said the Endowment Fund Trust had offered to polish the wooden fixtures at the Government School Shikarpur building. “It is sad to notice that the old glass windowpanes are all gone now. I was told that during minor restorations of the school building, the contractor took away the windowpanes using the excuse that they were unsuitable for a school as the children might break them,” Mr Akhund said. “He took away the school’s eyes. It is blind now! The least we can do now is offer to replace the glass panes. Of course we can’t replace what is lost but it is something,” he said.

Prof Dr Anwar Figar Hakro, Naseem Mughal, Wajahat Hussain Mehar, Khalil Moriani and Syed Mehdi Shah also made presentations on the occasion.

The conference concluded with a heritage walk for schoolchildren from Hathi Dar to Lakhi Dar.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2014