mid-day's 39th anniversary: Telling stories by the footpath
If heritage walks are commonplace in Mumbai, it's because this young woman's vision has endured
Alisha Sadikot, 33
Founder, The Inheritage Project
At a time when heritage walks were not common, Alisha Sadikot, a student of art history, dreamt of a possibility of engaging with it, full time. It was 2004 and Sadikot was getting into her final year at St Xavier's College. "Asiatic Library was turning 200, so, as part of their bicentenary celebrations, they trained a bunch of us to tour their basement and talk about their history and collection. It was an instance of a mock practical application of history. We did the tour of Asiatic and Horniman Circle. I guess that's when I caught the bug, you could say," she says, seated in the balcony of her Bandra home. Over a decade later, Sadikot went on to start The Inheritage Project, that curates walking tours and workshops for people to engage with the city's art, museum and heritage resources.
She recalls being interested in history early on, "at a time when history was not seen as cool". "In fact, at school, Bombay Scottish, most students thought it was the most boring subject," she laughs. Having a grandmother who was a professor of political science and history, and an aunt who is a professor of history at Mumbai University, her choice wasn't deemed odd by the family. "I got lucky there." Her passion for art history took her to School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London and New Castle University, besides a one-year diploma in fine arts from Baroda. The Inheritage Project was launched in 2015. "Back in 2004, when we did the Asiatic Library walk, we saw the most amazing response. We did free walks every weekend for a year. The best part was being trained by architects and historians like Vikas Dilawari and Abha Narain Lambah. Over the years, what makes a walk work has come to me in bits and pieces. The challenge is to figure what hooks whom. You need to build on the reaction of the people. No two walks are the same, even though the route could be."
Sadikot likes to root her walks in the present. "I talk about history, yes, but also about what bearing it has on the present. The audience has become more invested over the years. They want to dig deep, you can see it on their faces." She also prefers to have participants who are residents of Mumbai. "Locals can relate to referencing better." That's probably one reason why, unlike other art and heritage walks, Sadikot does not advertise on travellers' portals.
Her latest walk is about discovering Mumbai through poetry. "It has been one my most exciting ventures. I have tried to look beyond poetry by men and by Englishmen in particular. I have come across a lot of poetry by women and even diaries of Englishwomen."
It takes close to two months to come up with a new walk. "You need to do several recces, during the week and weekends, also at various times of the day. Having worked in the museum space for 10 years, I have only had working Sundays. But it's so interesting, sometimes I cannot tell work from play."
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