I went to the Instituto Menezes Bragança in central Panjim yesterday, to visit a book sale, and got a great shock! The pictures say it all:
The imposing Instituto Menezes Bragança staircase, before and after the “renovation”.
The staircase was not at all in a state of disrepair, and could and should have been left intact. There are boxes of humdrum tiles lying nearby, waiting to be put upon the steps instead of the beautiful old stone (was it marble? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t really matter). The old stone layers have just been ruthlessly been prised away, and are in little fragments in a large pile.
This staircase was literally a stairway to culture for people of my generation and before, as it was the path to the hall upstairs, where we had classical concerts, and so much else (high-quality exhibitions of books, paintings, stamps, coins, etc). This is where the Russian record company Melodiya had their exhibition, and so many of us in Goa built our collection from it. It was the path to the beautiful Instituto Menezes Braganza museum, which the self-appointed "czar" of culture Pratapsing Rane forcibly appropriated, with the result that some artefacts have never ever been seen since.
This staircase certainly had historical significance attached to it, and I mourn its loss.
This outrage raises several questions:
1. What can heritage bodies like GHAG, or anyone for that matter do about this? It already seems like ‘too little too late’. We can dash off strong letters of protest, but the damage as you can see, has been done. There are a few stairs on the central staircase still untouched, and I think the flights of stairs on either side are still intact, but perhaps it is just a matter of time before they fall under the hammer too.
2. How can we prevent something like this from happening again? What if someone in their bureaucratic "wisdom" takes the same "renovating" zeal to the unparalleled azulejo murals of Jorge Colaço next? Why are such decisions being taken without consultation of heritage bodies, who can advise them on what ought to be conserved?
I’m not sure how we begin to safeguard our heritage structures, but if we don’t, I’m afraid we’ll continue to be bystanders as heritage Goa fades into oblivion, and Panjim resembles a large concrete, tiled bathroom.
It is a real sense of grief for me, because it seems like nothing is sacred in my beloved hometown. Anything can disappear at any time, and I/we have no control over what vanishes next.