Rabindranath Tagore’s house in Puri richly deserves to be conserved rather than demolished. If the rational course of action is pursued and if the renovated building is embellished with artefacts that languish within, it will be another tourist attraction in the seaside temple town. That, we admit, is an iffy proposition, however. This is quite the most charitable construct that can be placed upon the local municipality’s decision to bring the poet’s ancestral residence under the pickaxe.
Appropriately enough, the renovation project could well have been initiated in 2013, the centenary year of Tagore’s Nobel prize. The location of the house on Chakratirtha Road has a certain strategic significance ~ in the vicinity of the landmark BNR Hotel and close to the shore and also, of course, the The Sea! The Sea! The Open Sea/ The blue, the fresh, the ever-free, to summon the words of Barry Cornwall. A heritage structure in Odisha, the 100-year-old Patherpuri house does boast an iconic status amidst the seaside landscape that is dotted with multi-starred hotels and thriving garment shops. It is distressing to reflect that the building, a much favoured haunt of the poet, is now an abandoned structure, one that can be restored to its pristine glory by the Naveen Patnaik administration with the support of qualified conservationists.
Regretfully, the country’s record in preserving monuments and heritage structures has been less than satisfactory, if the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India is any indication. Sad to reflect, Kolkata’s Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial have also been included in the same category of negligence, according to a CAG report which once sought to deviate from the routine audit of accounts.
It would be no disrespect to the sentiments of the sevayats to aver that the decrepit house of the poet deserves as much care and protection as the Jagannath Temple. Should the building start crumbling, it will be a blot on the cultural history of India. Yet the authorities, specifically the state and municipal administration, have been remarkably insensitive to the damage wrought over time. Its asbestos roof had gone with the wind during cyclone Fani last April. Rather than fix a replacement, the building has been allowed to decay, almost to the point of ruin.
As much has been admitted by the Sub-Collector of Puri ~ “Tagore’s house is in ruins and there is no option but to demolish the same.” Yet the towel need not be thrown in quite yet. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) is in a position to undertake the renovation project and ensure that the structure gets a new lease of life, as it were. The building still boasts certain manuscripts and documents crafted by Tagore. His bust within the complex is a mute witness to negligent nonchalance. The Odisha Chief Minister is a man of culture and sensitivity; Mr Patnaik must step in to save the building.