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Old anew...

ANJANA RAJAN meets Tessa Jowell, Britain's Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, who shares her thoughts on heritage conservation.


IF it seems that our fashion designers have not taken advantage of the charms of traditional Indian fabrics and decorative crafts, then it might be a good idea for those who cherish these traditions to go in for some planning before inviting the fashion fraternity to plunge headlong into these heritage riches. Because, as Tessa Jowell, the British Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, points out, even if indigenous crafts benefit from the short term interest generated by a passing fad, "What happens when fashion moves on?" She puts it in a nutshell when she remarks, "We live in a society fed with an almost insatiable desire for newness." Indeed, the concern of the Minister, who was in India for a short visit, is not new to the numerous Indian agencies and individuals working in the area of heritage conservation. She emphasised that the exchange between India and the U.K. on this subject was a dialogue in which she had picked up a number of issues she intended to take up on her return, and that she was "impressed" with India's handling of its heritage. Looking at the bigger picture, and India's track record, everyone may not agree with her assessment, but at the micro level, there is no doubt that much has been done to sustain some of the country's priceless crafts - especially when you take into account that the Minister spent a few days in Jaipur, which is teeming with crafts, conservation initiatives - not to mention heritage monuments, which Tessa Jowell's portfolio covers too.

It is notable that the U.K. has a tradition of master craftsmen who are highly skilled. These, however, are rarely heard about, since the tradition of working with the hands has all but receded in Western countries with the advent of mass production. Commenting on the "great regional sensitivity in India to arts and handicrafts," Tessa Jowell notes, "We have a similar regional sensitivity in England, but many of the practitioners of these crafts are getting old, and we are not replacing them with young people." In this aspect too, she expresses a healthy regard for the transmission of Indian traditions, though she points out that commercialisation too is a necessity, saying, "I think it's a common risk."


Questions relating to heritage conservation and tourism have figured importantly in her talks with Indian ministers and bureaucrats. These include discussions on "the trade-off between regeneration aspects and tourism," and whether the local people are benefited by the development in this sector, or the ultimate aim of heritage conservation is to derive benefits for the tourism industry. "The answer is both," points out the Minister.

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