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Heritage preservation | Art & Culture

The Department of Archeology and Museums has finally taken possession of the ancestral houses of film stars Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. The ownership of both the houses has also been transferred to the Archeology and Museums director of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. Earlier, the owners of the properties had announced plans to move a court against the rates being offered by the government.

It was more than a decade ago that the then provincial government (led by the Awami National Party) took the popular decision to start the process to take over the two properties and convert them into heritage sites. There were many proposals like setting up house museums, cultural centres or heritage sites. When the process was initiated, it was more or less welcomed by most, especially those involved in the promotion of culture in a society that has been wary of culture and cultural expression getting out of prescribed limits.

Some were also happy that finally the government was willing to own their heritage and the great people that were born in the land irrespective of the religious denomination or the countries where they finally flourished. And since both flourished in the Indian film industry, it was all the more laudable that the narrow definitions of nationalism were not allowed to come in the way of appreciating the contributions made to humanity at large.

It has not been easy for both the countries that went through a bloodbath and a tournament of riots and arson to come to terms and accept that the past should be treated as past and not as a huge shadow that darkens the present. The ongoing issues between the two countries have been adding to the ire of distrust and lack of confidence and to many the relationship has deteriorated like never before.

Following a change of government in the province, the initiative was put on the backburner where it rested till the current government pushed the initiative further and brought it to the point where the properties have been acquired by the Archeology Department of the provincial government – a decision enforced by the district administration.

It is indeed very sad that the properties, in a way, have been annexed by the government by force and have dispossessed the actual owners of these properties. It would have been much better and in the fitness of things if the entire transaction or transfer had taken place to the satisfaction of both the parties.

Alas, it did not. The claims and counterclaims have resurfaced for a long drawn legal battle between the two parties. The very beginning was mired in bad faith and conflict and does not augur well for the future.

We all know that governments have certain rights to acquire property from private owners for the greater good of the public. We all know that the government rates of compensation for such properties are woefully below the extant market level. People are generally wary therefore of interacting with the government where such transactions are involved because it is feared that they will end up as losers.

The latest acquisition or transaction has only strengthened the impression because the owners are convinced that what the government is offering in return for the properties is much below the market rate. They have refused to be on the wrong end of the deal. This has also created an impression high-handedness on part of the government in its execution of its decision as the owners are clearly not satisfied.

A better way for the government always is not to flex its administrative muscle and instead settle the matter amicably to the satisfaction of the property owners. The entire enterprise is a happy one and has been welcomed by all since it was initiated. However, the procedure that has been followed has dismayed quite a few. The blame largely rests with the government for creating the impression that it is capitalising on local heritage and cultural assets at the expense of its citizens.

It was actually Prithviraj Kapoor who left his ancestral Peshawar to try his luck out in the glitzy world of Bombay’s (now Mumbai) show business. An amateur actor with the desire to make a profession out of it, he found limited openings in his native city and decided to move to Bombay. Afraid of his father, his coopted the blessings of a maternal aunt, borrowing money from her and left on the stealth boarding the Frontier Mail for the dream destination. He was lucky that he was able to start a whole dynasty of studio owners, actors, directors, screen play writers and show business entrepreneurs. His fourth generation is still dominating the show business industry.

Dilip Kumar’s father had left Peshawar and settled in Bombay, seeking better prospects for his fruit business. He must have done reasonably well to have educated his sons. Dilip Kumar too joined the film industry on the sly. His father would hear nothing of it, and fearing his wrath, he hid the fact from his family till he became a star and his posters/banners appeared everywhere on the streets, crossroads and roundabouts. It was actually Bhubhaneshwar Kapoor, the father of Prithviraj Kapoor who let Lala Liaquat, father of Dilip Kumar in on to this secret.

The issue of property has to be settled amiably and to the satisfaction of the owners of the properties. Otherwise, it will be unfair and also deter many others who may in some way be in possession of possible heritage sites and artifacts in coming forward to declare their personal properties as national treasures.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

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