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A Ray of Hope: The Impact of Conservation Initiatives on the Common Man

As a conservation professional working at various heritage sites, my interactions with the local individuals—the common man— has left a lasting impression on me. Leaving aside the technical process and jargon associated with it, I want to share my experiences at these heritages sites and the impact our work has on local communities. The initiative—the Madhya Pradesh Monuments Project at Ramnagar—is a ray of hope that has left a positive impact on the “common man” and can create more and more ripples of positive influence.

Whenever my mobile screen shows an incoming call from Naval Kishore, I have mixed emotions, especially during rainy season. My first question is always, “Is everything fine?” The answer— “yes, everything is fine”—comforts me to know the building is safe. I am always worried that Jharokha in Moti Mahal will collapse due to heavy rains and my worst fear is someone getting injured. Naval is interested in seeing the building restored. I am encouraged by the interest he shows and his keenness to personally get involved in the whole process.

Naval is a young man from Ramnagar village where WMF’s collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Government is focusing on the conservation of two ancient structures, Moti Mahal and Rai Bhagat Ki Kothi. Naval was first introduced to me by my good friend Ashish Trambadia while doing the first field visit to the site. Naval is a key member of our team. He has also told us about the best local cuisine, and educated us about the myths and stories of Gond tribes who fiercely attach themselves to the ancient structures being restored, stories from the weekly market of the Narmada River, and local politics.

The whole value system with which the community looks at these two buildings changes once you see beyond the physical fabric. Though the current conservation initiative is limited, the work has set a solid foundation for more positive impact on the community in the future if the conservation program expands.

Apart from working with us, Naval conducts the weekly market that brings a lively and festive atmosphere to the Moti Mahal surroundings and to the village. We were told that this market is the largest in the region and many farmers come from far distances to sell their produce and to buy necessary items. Fabulous pottery, metal ware, and clothes with earthy colors are being sold right in front of these ancient structures, adding value to the whole historic setting.

Naval was so resourceful to our understanding of the building that we could trace the people who did the earlier restoration works and understand what exactly was done as we could not find any records explaining some of the earlier conservation works. It is also important to find local people who can be important resources for future conservation and day-to-day management of these two ancient buildings.

As consultants, we are not on site all the time and it is important to have a site supervisor who will ensure that instructions are strictly followed. Also a successful project is about craftsmen, skilled people based at the site.

With all the above background, I decided to involve Naval in a full-fledged manner as part of my team during the implementation phase of the project at Ramnagar. One of the ideas that I really want to try is to have a display at the weekly market of all the work that has been done on the sites in front of the Moti Mahal and explain to the local community about the conservation initiative by WMF. The team thought of this when we were told that the local Gond tribe strongly associate themselves with Moti Mahal building, claiming it as their ancestor’s home. The local community should know what WMF is doing or otherwise it would be seen as regular government work. Naval could play the role of an anchor on behalf of the project coordination team, WMF, and MPMP explaining the work to the local community.

When I last spoke to Navel, he told me that he wants to learn English so that he can participate in our conversations and perhaps get a better job in the future. Since this conversation, I have been reflecting on my interactions with Naval. I know our project has had a positive impact on him. He sees the restoration of these ancient structures has an important significance in his community, and one that would bring economic benefits to the whole village.

Naval Kishore is only one example of how the MPMP project can create a positive impact on the “common man” during my brief presence at Ramnagar. There can be many found, provided that the outreach program with the local community is taken forward.

It is also the rigorous approach and methodology set by the project management consultant, leading to the creation of solid base work for each site in the MPMP project for long term management of cultural properties and can lead to so many innovative ways of community based development approaches. The current body of base work created with WMF’s support should be seen in the long term perspective and not limited to what is required for spending available finance commission grants.