Whose India?

Who owns India? If India existed solely as a territorial possession, a piece of property, the answer to this question might be simple. Whoever rules India, owns it. Prior to 1947, when the administrative machinery of the British Empire was still intact, the ruler/owner was England. The English controlled its central and provincial governments, dictated its politics and economics, and mapped out its boundaries. Insofar as one country can own another, then, England owned India. But India is more than a geographical entity. If it were not more, how could Salman Rushdie describe it as a "new myth-a collective fiction"; how could V. S. Naipaul call it "a wounded civilization"; how could Edwin Arnold assert, "I declare myself not so much her friend as her lover"? Clearly India's reality extends beyond its geographical presence. It has also an imaginative dimension. The imperialist connotations traditionally implicit in the word 'own' are hardly erased by this broadening of the epistemic boundaries of India. On the contrary, the potential for appropriating India increases when it is recognized as a property of the imagination.

Teresa Hubel, 1996


Virtual heritage

Every place is a blend of cultural, spiritual, political, social, and emotional notions.  In her book 'Whose India?' Teresa Hubel introduces a notion that place is a property of the imagination .  She presented the idea that whoever speaks to and for India's people, and whoever imagines India's past or destiny with the hope of determining its future, can be said to be a part owner of the notion.  Going a step further along this line of thinking, Hubel's notion is actually multi-layered.  It is applicable globally and extends down to the level of the smallest place where people gather.  Place belongs to whichever individuals or groups are able to constitute its formation in discourse.  Kipling and Rushdie are two ethnically distinct individuals who both stake their legitimate claim to the ownership of India by the very act of writing about it. A group or individual who simulates a virtual presence in a place in the real world thereby establishes ownership of that place: thereby place comes to have a personalised psychological existence.

Thus it is that Kipling took possession of Lahore !

In all, Kipling lived in Lahore for five years and it was there that he became a writer.  The short stories that made up his first prose collection Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) were written and published in the city's newspaper. 

As a well-defined literary and spatial image, Lahore appears in the very first story of the collection entitled 'The Gate of A Hundred Sorrows'.  It takes the form of a confession of an opium-smoker, who spends his life in a Chinese den called The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows. The opium den where the story‘s hero lives out his days is situated deep in the labyrinth of streets of the Walled City behind the Delhi Gate.  Kipling tells us...

'It lies between the Copper-smith's Gully and the pipe-stem sellers' quarter, within a hundred yards, as the crow flies, of the Mosque of Wazir Khan. I don't mind telling any one this much, but I defy him to find the Gate, however well he may think he knows the City. You might even go through the very gully it stands in a hundred times, and be none the wiser. We used to call the gully, "the Gully of the Black Smoke," but its native name is altogether different of course. A loaded donkey couldn't pass between the walls; and, at one point, just before you reach the Gate, a bulged house-front makes people go along all sideways.'

Rudyard Kipling’s concern about the precise detail in his descriptive passages of India was no coincidence. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was curator of the Lahore museum and principal of the Mayo School of Art next door since April 1875. When in 1882, the young Kipling had returned from his school days in England, he had assisted his father as an unpaid deputy before joining the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette.  The Mosque of Wazir Khan still exists and modern literary tourists search its surroundings for the opium den, but it remains an ephemeral virtual synthesis from the cultural artefacts of local heritage which cluttered Kipling's imagination.  The Kiplings, father and son, represent the two ways that people interact with cultural heritage; as something valuable to be conserved, to be passed on, and as a material and spiritual resource to generate beneficial narratives of historical development.

From well before the time when written records were invented, our ancestors integrated culture with place by calling upon the emotional impacts of art on wall paintings seen often with priestly commentary deep in the bowels of the earth.  Much later, culture and place were linked in the Greek imagination with words, too striking to forget, that related ancient myths in voice rhythms which commanded remembrance from generation to generation. Ritual also is a powerful way of implanting images as icons of cultural recall.  All such, tools for creating virtual reality are bolstered by the sense of fusion that comes from common audience engagement.  Computer-generated virtual reality has now taken over as the primary means of transmitting images that situate communities in the cultural context of the past. These days, for most people, virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed on a computer screen.  Using the modern technologies of visuality, authors can project messages of place in education, political discourse and travel with a guaranteed audience of hundreds to millions.
This web page addresses the assumption that creators of a virtual reality can possess the kind of power Teresa Hubel was defining; the power to establish ownership of place, particularly by using on-line visuality to present mindmaps of cultural heritage to give place a psychological existence..

Managing places of heritage significance

 Every place has a heritage which has been defined by past cultures and environments.  Heritage is a broad concept and includes the natural as well as the cultural environment.  It is both a material and spiritual resource providing a narrative of historical development.  Cultural and natural heritage belongs to everyone.  Situated in the mainstream of civilisation, we each have a right and responsibility to understand, appreciate and conserve its values. The particular heritage and collective memory of each locality or community is irreplaceable and an important foundation for development, both now and into the future.    It encompasses landscapes, nature sites and built environments as well as museum collections. It records and expresses the long processes of historical development forming the essence of diverse national, regional, indigenous and local identities and is an integral part of human life.   A community's heritage is dynamic, being augmented by continuing cultural practices, knowledge and living experiences.  It is a social resource, a dynamic reference point and a positive instrument for growth and change. Once recognised as a defining feature of place, it is hosted by its present community and imanaged by a custodian group.  This group has the objective of communicating its significance, engendering respect for it and conserving the value of its features.  These activities are the basis of conservation management plans.  If the heritage resource is deemed to have value beyond the community and should therefore be developed as a visitor attraction, the plans should establish appropriate limits of acceptable change. This means measuring the  impact of visitors on the physical characteristics, integrity, ecology and biodiversity, local access and transportation systems.  If the impact is unacceptable the management plan should be modified accordingly.  Within this logic of conservation management it is but a small step to turn a neighbourhood into a tourist attraction ! Indeed, the marketing teams who promote tourist destinations can be said to sell visitors place as a psychological existence, which lives on as part of their home life.

The international cultural tourism charter takes the view that at a time of increasing globalisation, the protection, conservation, interpretation and presentation of the heritage and cultural diversity of any particular place or region is an important challenge for people  everywhere.  However, the charter says that the management of that heritage within a framework of internationally recognised and appropriately applied standards should usually be the responsibility of the particular community or custodian group.  The uptake of this charter ethos is further explored in the following linked site.