It is heartwarming to see Bengal waking up to its Heritage worth. Conscious citizens have taken it upon themselves to find a voice. Awareness is an integral part of this consciousness and the city has seen a series of events towards this end.

Alliance Française du Bengale on the 29th of May, hosted a special talk with esteemed Conservationists Raphael Gastebois and Aishwarya Tipnis on the Value of Heritage in the community and the importance of community involvement in its Restoration.

Pondicherry: Quora                                                                                                                          Pondicherry:TourHQ

Raphael and Aishwarya have been involved in the Restoration of two beautiful historic cities namely Pondicherry and Chandernnagore which were erstwhile French settlements.

Raphael Gastebois calls Pondicherry his home. He is an international technical expert in urban development and advices the Pondicherry government in their Smart City project. He aims to make Pondicherry a Tourist city but to maintain conservation. His tourist would have to adapt to life of Pondicherry. Only then would Heritage equate with Sustainable Development.

Chandernnagore: Wikipedia                                                                               Strand Road, Chandernnagore: Anil Vohra

Aishwarya Tipnis started her work at Chandernnagore in the year 2010 with the Identification of 99 heritage buildings for conservation. Yet even after that buildings were being demolished. In spite of the efforts of certain locals as well as Aishwarya's efforts, there had been very little headway.

In 2012 there were talks about another beautiful building called Doyel Manzil coming under the hammer. Aishwarya wrote an article on this which got published in Times of India. This marked a watershed as the voice of Restoration and Conservation spread far and wide. People spoke out in large numbers. Soon, this awareness spread as the Voice of the people bringing out a critical point of what Heritage really is in today's context.

Heritage is not just about buildings.

It is not just about the people who lived then.

It is also about the people who live now.

What it does for them, and what they do for it.

Both a Conundrum and a Continuum!

It became evident that for the movement to sustain itself, it had to become a "Citizen's movement." All efforts were now made to involve the locals. Students volunteered to become Citizen Historians and to conduct Historical walks through the city. In 2015 a Lego Workshop was conducted and children were asked to build a Heritage building of their choice with Lego blocks. Other such community awareness events were Painting and Creative Writing competitions, Heritage Photography competitions etc.

The Chandernnagore project also participated in Bonjour India (2017- 2018) which is an Indo- French movement to celebrate the bilateral partnership and people to people contact between the two nations. Bonjour India included the Co-Creation workshop in Chandernnagore College in January 2018 where 32 students from different fields from our national institutes as well as French institutes got together for 7 days. Along with the local students of Chandernnagore they participated in a workshop which was for ideating on a business plan for the town.

An important part of the workshop was connecting with local citizens asking them what they needed and wanted for Chandernnagore. The first planned restoration will now start with the Redesigning of the registry office at Chandernnagore.

The Heritage Project for Chandernnagore is now documented on a website The website states: "The Heritage and People of Chandernnagore is a heritage conservation and community engagement project aimed at finding meaning and relevance of this shared cultural heritage. The objective of the project is to bring Chandernnagore on the global platform and draw attention to its conservation and tourism development. It hopes to empower the youth of Chandernnagore and build pride in their town's heritage"

It also invites everyone who has lived, worked or passed through Chandernnagore to share their photos and memories to create a shared album of history.

Serampore: Outlook Traveller                                                                                           Serampore College:Navrang India

What is particularly exciting to know is that The Chandernnagore project has been both a forerunner and a catalyst. Its ripples are now felt beyond Chandernnagore. We now have the Hugli River of Cultures Project which focuses on 5 Heritage towns in Bengal − Bandel, Chinsurah, Chandernnagore, Serampore and Barrackpore.

And this is brings us to the all-important question − Why Heritage and for Whom?

Is it ‘For the Past or For the Future’? The true beauty of these Conservation drives is that they are Inclusive and open to anybody who wants to contribute.

From Expert-led to community driven.

Heritage must therefore be − Of the People, By the People, For the People!