LAST week, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Archaeology & Museums finally took possession, after much back and forth, of the ancestral homes in old Peshawar of Bollywood legends Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. On Tuesday, the city deputy commissioner issued a notification of the transfer of ownership of the properties to the relevant provincial department under the colonial-era compulsory property acquisition law. It had been announced months ago that the locations would be restored and reopened as museums. The sites have over the years suffered grievous damage.
The news must have been met with mixed reactions. Pakistan’s officialdom has always displayed a penchant for flaunting the country’s richly woven tapestry of cultural heritage. On the ground, however, it is fairly uncommon to see this lofty rhetoric translated into action. Things might be inching forward, though. The PTI government has laid particular emphasis on tourism as one of the tools in the country’s arsenal of ‘soft power’. The KP government’s promises in terms of the Bollywood stars’ ancestral residences follows on other headliners such as the excavation some months ago of a Buddhist site in the area, and the opening of Peshawar’s Sethi Haveli as a museum. True, grave problems and systemic inefficiencies remain, such as artefact theft and the failure to protect sites against defacement by an under-educated public. Still, one hopes that in the case of the Kapoor and Kumar havelis, legal tangles and officialdom’s inadequacies are not allowed to stymie worthy projects. Other provinces must step up their efforts too; sites deserving of protection and display adorn the entire country. The Radio Pakistan building in Karachi is one worthy of mention because Sindh is in particular lagging behind in showcasing its ample heritage. The upper parts of the country have fared slightly better. For Pakistan to cement its place amongst thoughtful, civilised nations, documenting and preserving its history is vital. The importance of areas of endeavour such as archaeology and heritage preservation must never be underestimated.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2021