Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Palace for the People

This whole transparency effort is comical. Take the Adil Shah restoration work that is going on in slow-motion. There’s the GSIDC, then there’s the contractor who got the job of carrying out the restoration work, there’s the committee made up of artists, architect, scientist etc, which is supposed to guide the contractor and generally keep an eye on them and there are the invitees, those rabble-rousers, like me, who start screaming from the housetops after the job is done.

The seat of power in Goa for a few hundred years was the Adil Shah Palace. Our 40 bright and beautiful elected representatives and their bureaus shifted across the river and up the hill to the new secretariat at Porvorim which a published author once remarked, “looks like a boob and houses 40 boobs”, which proves yet again what a lazy language English is with so many different meanings for one word. And also that published authors are more original than those ‘authors’ who pay to publish their own books. But that’s another story.

Well, the committee for the restoration of the Adil Shah Palace decided to invite the rabble-rousers. They wanted the said rabble-rousers to see for themselves what was planned to turn the dead and crumbling palace into a living space for the people of Panjim, the people of Goa and anyone else who would like to experience the culture of Goa as it evolved through the ages.

Now why do I say it is comical? Because everyone is patently nervous. The committee calls for suggestions, but whether they will accept it is anyone’s guess. The plans have already been drawn up and the GSIDC has already signed on the dotted line with the contractors. The committee is nervous because they have to defend their ideas of what will turn the palace set on such a beautiful location into a living space. The GDISC officials and the restoration representatives looked closed and guarded. The rabble-rousers were nervous, because it’s very difficult to shout from the housetops when you have been invited to give your opinion before the deed is done.

We were taken on a tour of the 5000 sq mt palace. The ground floor which was made up of stables has these magnificent arches of laterite stone. It would be safe to blame the current horse trading that the Government of Goa is notorious for on the ghosts of these horses that were housed below. There was a small chapel which led to much murmuring about how it should be maintained as a chapel and much murmuring about, “Let’s see, let’s see.” We looked in vain for a secret tunnel that led to the harems in the age predating the chapel.

The massive old beams will continue holding up the ceiling and supporting the top floor. Massive new beams have been stacked up to replace those that have been eaten by white-ants and assorted wood worm. Up the stairs to the top floor overlooking the gently flowing Mandovi. As the cabinet swelled, the majestic, large, airy rooms shrank as ministers put up partitions to accommodate their new cabins and cabins for their staff and chamchas.

The restorers have removed all those partitions that had been added in the last couple of decades and one gets a sense of the structure as it must have been originally designed. The plan is to take the palace and give it to Goans. The space within will be divided into art and culture gallery space, museum space, a music room, a children’s crèche, a children’s activity room, a book room, administration office and a café on the upstairs gallery. The artifacts in the Palace will be exclusive and not repeated elsewhere in Goa. The Assembly Hall met with the most comment with the visitors strongly urging that it remain an Assembly Hall where regular mock assemblies could be held by the Law students and the public to comment on the actual assembly sessions taking place on the hill at Porvorim. “We’ll see, we’ll see,” was the answer.

Historian and retired bureaucrat Percival Noronha was not impressed, “We have so many art galleries and museums in Goa. This building should be used as the Archives of the state.” It was met with a studied silence, no one, not even the rabble rousers were in favour of it. It’s better as a place for art and culture I murmur soothingly. He snorts, we had the same idea with Kala Academy, he said, and it is hardly a centre for art and culture. Maybe the Adil Shah Palace will draw the people to its ancient stones. It’s not Kala Academy, built by Charles Correa, the Idalcao is a piece of Goa’s history that has come unscathed through the centuries. It’s up to the people of Goa to take this gift, use it and keep it alive for centuries to come.

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