Bhatkalis will have to respect their heritage first before expecting others to do so...
Itís been many years since I left Bhatkal and a lot has changed in this once quaint coastal town in all these years, except for two things Ė its pristine beauty, which is still unspoilt and the nature of its people.
Itís the second of the two things mentioned above that will be the point of discussion here, while keeping the first for a later date.
Though, Bhatkalis are progressing and prospering rapidly, trying to keep pace with the dizzying march of globalization, I m afraid one thing is being left behind and that is our heritage.
Every time I visit Bhatkal, either there is something new to see or there is something missing. New developments are always welcome but it canít come at the expense of something historic, like the over 200 year old Shazli Masjid.
Now demolished for expansion, the idyllically located mosque at the bank of Bhatkal River that crisscrosses through the heart of old town, is a painful example of how disdainfully apathetic we are to our own history.
My heart bled a thousand tears when I went looking for the mosque, only to find the debris of the old structure scattered around, a magnificent piece of history shattered into pieces.
For those who brought the building down it was just another piece of block and cement, while for many like me it was one of the last standing testimonies of our heritage.
I sat there on the bank of the river on the very steps that led to the old mosque, contemplating the kind of apathy Bhatkalis have shown over the years to their own heritage and culture, and demolition of Shazli Masjid is a grotesque testimony to our insipid nature.
Old Mushma Masjid
It is this nature, this sense of apathy towards our own past that could, God forbid, one day lead to our downfall. Be it beautiful old mosques or those artistic townhouses, we are pulling them down one after another, unaware of the fact that in our attempt to make our future bright we are leaving our heritage in darkness.
One would call me impractical for my assertions, as I understand that keeping or restoring old crumbling houses isnít affordable or feasible for common people. But, if European cities can preserve its centuries old neighbourhoods in its original conditions, than why canít we declare the eight streets (sains) as our heritage area and preserve them in their original state.
A little bit of initiative would be enough to create awareness and with the help of government or archeological experts the entire area could be preserved without affecting the peopleís life who are living there.
Demolition of irreparable houses is at least justifiable, but whatever be the reason, there canít be any justification for the decimation of historic mosques.
If a structure is crumbling it can be restored, if it is wanting in space it can be expanded while keeping the old building intact, destroying it is just unacceptable.
This is not the first time Bhatkalis have shown complete lack of sense for history and heritage. There have been several such occasions in the recent past, a few notables being Sultan Masjid, Ghousia Masjid and Jamia Masjid.
But, what pains me most is the reconstruction of Sultan Masjid, when there was no obvious need of it.
Built by the braveheart Shahid Sultan Tipu, it was the symbol of Sultanís special relationship with our town and a crown jewel of Bhatkalís heritage.
We obliterated that significant piece of history and built on its place a structure that neither has any aesthetic appeal or any semblance of its rich past.
I m told that the demolition was carried out at the behest of a small group of people who thought the direction of the mosqueís mihrab wasnít accurate.
Are you kidding me? Do you go and kill the person, if one part of his body has a tumor or cancer? Itís very simple, you just try to cure that particular portion or operate upon the tumor.
Itís a certain tumor that is devouring our heritage, itís a particular cancer that has corroded our nature, making us sit indifferently while the pearls of our heritage are being decapitated one after another.
Old streets of Bhatkal, Qazia Street and Jamia Street where old houses representing the true culture and heritage of Nawayaths
Slowly but surely our old-fashioned Ďsainsí (streets) are losing their characteristics, as one by one our old artistic houses are being replaced by faceless concrete blocks.
The common walls that held our community together for hundreds of years and remained a symbol of our close bonding, are caving in. Modern bungalows with huge compound wall are being built in place of the old edifices causing rifts in the hearts of the townsfolk, and keeping them away from each other.
Though there are hundreds of old houses still standing, some of which are hundreds of years old, only a handful of those are now are in their original state, representing the true culture and heritage of Nawayaths.
And so are the cases of mosques, apart from Mushma and Kazia masjids, there are none that we can show to our children as our heritage and I m afraid it wonít be late when these two edifices would also face the wrath of our apathy.
Writer of this article Shafaat Ahmed is a Senior Reporter with Khaleej Times, Dubai.