Highlighting Heritage

The Hindu - Feb 18, 2007

India has been selected as the first country to be profiled in the World Heritage Project series.

It is a fascinating country steeped in a rich heritage, yet forever in bloom. India's diversity, the many cultures and languages it is home to, have helped us decide that we will start with "Treasures of India".

"IT gets me mad when Indians living abroad talk in disparaging terms about India. There's such incredible beauty, culture and heritage in our land and we take it for granted all the time. When I saw Mumbai's VT station recently after being away several years in Bahrain and Canada, it hit me anew with all its glory," said the dashing and young Kavita Subramanyam, project co-ordinator, World Heritage Project, Toronto, Canada.

Kavita came to Mumbai in December with a team from WHP that included the famed photographer Mary Ellen Mark, contributing photographer for New Yorker. The latter's photo essays have appeared in New York Times, Rolling Stones, Life and Vanity Fair. Her portraits of Mother Teresa and that of circuses and brothels in Mumbai are well known the world over.

Complete collection

For the first time, a complete collection of the world heritage sites is being assembled in a multimedia format. Through both new and traditional media, WHP brings to life the stories of the world's great natural and cultural creations. This includes photographic books, documentaries, virtual reality tours, photo archives and travelling photo exhibitions. Concerts, salons, premieres and other galas will highlight the beauty and importance of the world heritage sites.

India has been selected as the first country to be profiled in this series. Explaining this, Sandy Reimer, president, WHP, says, "Our international team has identified India as being one of the most culturally dynamic and historically significant places on the planet. It is a fascinating country steeped in a rich heritage, yet forever in bloom. India's diversity, the many cultures and languages it is home to, have helped us decide that we will start with "Treasures of India". Top-notch photographers have agreed to do the assignment free of charge for this non-profit organisation.

VT station and churches in Goa have been covered. Next in line are the Taj, Ellora-Ajanta, Hampi and Mahabalipuram. Ten photographers are assigned for India and this includes Dilip Mehta of "Water" fame, and Dayanita Singh. Shortly Steve Mc Curry of National Geographic will be shooting the marble marvel in Agra. It was Mc Curry who famously said, "If you wait, people would forget your camera and the soul would drift up into view". His image of "the Afghan girl" on the National Geographic cover is not one that you can forget in a hurry. Each photojournalist will be assigned two sites and they would be visiting India this year during different periods, depending on the weather conditions vis-à-vis the monument or site to be covered.

A graduate from Trinity Western University, Vancouver, Kavita had earlier been with the Red House Media and Marketing Co., Coca Cola's head office in the Middle East and Pepsi Cola. Her fundraising experience includes organising special events such as fashion shows, musical presentations and plays. A talented musician, she has performed at royal events in Thailand and Bahrain, in TV commercials and has her own CD recording as well.

Watching a master like Mary Ellen Mark at work in close quarters was a thrilling experience by itself for Kavita, who said, "She gets into a different zone altogether. At VT station (they took a week to cover the site) I saw that when she wielded the camera the subjects did exactly what she wanted them to. The soul connected with the subject through the lens. For a 67-year-old, she was very agile running behind a vendor who caught her eye, lugging huge equipment to boot. She used four cameras for the entire job and manual film. Old women who could not even see would not budge an inch if that is what she wanted of them. College students would be chattering away, but the moment she had her camera up the subjects would get into their role and hold the pose for minutes on end.

Notwithstanding language problems, I saw that kids would stop in their tracks and give the precise shots she wanted, and they would not demand money."

Mark had done her homework well. She had read five books on VT station in the last six months. Kavita said they managed to get the go-ahead to open rooms in the suburban station, which had remained locked for over 20 years. Once the authorities learnt that WHP was keen on projecting and promoting India's glory, doors opened at every level. "In VT station premises alone, there were six different officials we needed to get approval from. Did you know that a tripod is not allowed to be placed in this station for more than a minute?"

Invaluable resource

It is to be noted that a major portion of the net proceeds from the India project will go to preserving the sites, and to provide educational, environmental and social assistance to the communities in their neighbourhood. Kavita says that those passionate about travel, nature, art and history will find the project to be an invaluable resource. A coffeetable book of pictures shot in India this year by the master photojournalists will be brought out in 2008.

The WHP is considering getting Incredible India to endorse their project in India. It is pioneering perhaps the largest visual database of all the world heritage sites. The archive will not only include those pictures in the books and travel guides, but also thousands of additional images. It will be available online for businesses, media companies, graphic designers and educational institutions as well as the general public.