Since times immemorial, we Indians have been cherishing the heritage legacy bequeathed to us either by the British or the Mughals. Take a good look around Shimla- everything charming that one can possibly see is British.
Remove all the British buildings from the town, would Shimla still present the same warmth and hold the same magnetism?
Gaiety theater, whose restoration in recent times cost the government a whopping Rs. 11 crore, deserves some appreciation. It still remains a landmark for many tourists that flock the hill town in hundreds. But, once again, when seen in the light of the original English gothic architecture, the difference in appearance pops out abruptly, making it look like a plagiarized version.
The town is fast losing its British legacy owing to the lack of genuine political or social concern for preserving these buildings. And even when we argue that the task is financially beyond our affordability, are we really justifying the surroundings we live in by constructing haphazard dwellings and commercial spaces, and schools and roads, that only make the place look more dismal.
Surroundings of the famous DC office in Shimla depict this sad phenomenon quite well. The main building of this office houses the SP headquarters and is an old time British structure.
Today, it lies sandwiched between two buildings of the Judicial Courts – both having a poor architecture and dull appearance. On the right is a grey building, entering the gates of which one cannot escape but notice how overpowering the British structure in the background is.
Apparently, many people would argue that government offices are not tourist places, they’re supposed to be simple and plain. But, if this simplicity is combined with some aesthetics, it won’t do any harm.
Lush with exquisite beauty, Shimla’s landscape deserves to complement its aesthetics, but who really cares; nobody did in the recent times.
Look at buildings such as Christ Church, or the Viceregal Lodge, can anything Indian ever match their grandeur? I sincerely hope they do, but ground realities clearly do not imply so.
While the Church is symbolic of the Anglo-Saxon architecture, the IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) main structure manifests the Tudor style that completely leaves every onlooker awed.
Delving a bit more deep; I’m sure many of you must have at least subconsciously realised that the biggest hotels in the town too have British buildings.
The Oberoi Clarks, Wild Flower Hall, Cecil, Wood Ville Palace, all have an Imperial past. Some extensive renovation has gone into maintaining them, but at the core, they still adorn the British zeal.
Even among schools and colleges, some of the best convents like St. Bede’s College, Tara Hall, Jesus and Mary, Bishop Cotton School, and Auckland House, all are known for their well kept environments.
Even when newer buildings are sprouting to the campuses, they only add a very ordinary look to otherwise grand institutes. For example, Tara Hall’s new building, or the new building at St. Bede’s college; don’t stand anywhere close to what their British Counterparts are.
While many old office buildings had to be replaced with new ones like the Vidhan Sabha of Shimla due to unforeseen circumstances, others are still housed in British buildings. A major part of the Secretariat still works from the old building (Ellerslie). Even the Railway Board Building houses a number of government departments.
Most post offices around the town have British Buildings. Be it the head post office on the Mall, or the ones at Chotta Shimla, or Summerhill. SP office Shimla and BSNL headquarters Shimla are other examples.
In times to come, all this will only remain in pictures; new building will replace the old ones, and who knows whether Shimla will ever look the same as it is today. Will it still fascinate people from far and wide, or will it become more cluttered with unplanned allies and streets, appearing like pieces of a puzzle.
Photos by Pratima Kalra