Dr Tejas Garge at the Fort office of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. Pic/Suresh Karkera
In the austere office of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums at Fort, it’s been a week since Dr Tejas Garge assumed office as director. The 42-year-old ended his 15-year-long association with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), where he served under various capacities, most recently as assistant archaeologist in Aurangabad. At the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, a department under the state government, he is the first archaeologist to be appointed as director in the last 20 years, ever since famed Indologist and archaeologist Dr Arvind P Jamkhedkar retired. In these past two decades, the directorate, which protects key monuments in the city, has had various members of the state’s revenue or tax department helming its affairs.
While the ASI protects monuments of national interest, it is the directorate that oversees, at the state level, nearly 300 monuments that don’t come under the ASI, including The Gateway of India, and the Bandra and Worli forts. The Kipling Bungalow, which used to be the college dean’s residence at Sir JJ School of Art, for instance, is undergoing conservation through this department.
We met Garge, Nashik-born and a graduate of Deccan College in Pune, ahead of the day’s meetings with government officials, on what his leadership will bring to the department, and to the city’s archaeological concerns. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How do you evaluate the contribution of archaeology to our city?
On a regional scale, it helps form an ethnic Maharashtrian identity and, over here, it helps form a Mumbai-centric identity. For instance, if you take away CST from the city, its identity is dented. The CST is not a British legacy merely, but related to the Mumbaikar’s life in trains. A Punekar can’t understand what it means to miss an 8 am local. This intangible aspect is related to the tangible aspects of archaeology and conservation. The amount of heritage wealth across the country is so vast that no number of agencies will ever be enough.
What are your immediate steps as director?
My agenda is to revive the academic character of the department. We are contributing towards the history of the nation and there is a need to release more publications, even though we don’t have a publishing division. In the 1980s, there were slim volumes of research and findings that came from forts, such as those from Raigad and Rajgad, written by scholars in the department, such as BV Kulkarni, sold for as less as R3 or R4. Now, we plan to reprint those and bring out English translations as well.
Another important area to look into is a website. When I was preparing for the interview for this post, the first thing I did was look for the department’s website. I couldn’t find one!
More importantly, I want to improve the academic activities within the department, mainly excavations and explorations. You see, excavation is not a continuous activity. The initiative to excavate more and other purely archaeological activities can come only from directorate and not from the ministry.
In recent years, forts and their conservation have become hot topics, especially since Shivaji is both a cultural and political symbol. What do you think?
The forts of Maharashtra is a sensitive issue that has been taken seriously by the government. We have seen an increase in funding for conservation unlike earlier. It is perfectly alright if any party or individual that supports the conservation of forts comes forward. It is not my job to see whether things are politically utilised or not; however, I do believe that as long as advertising, hoardings and flags are not flown on forts, it is doable.
How will your directorship add to the department?
Earlier directors were from the revenue and tax departments. Administratively, they were exceptional and you can’t blame them for not having knowledge of archaeology. For instance, there was a recent controversy of a fort dig in which the foundation wall was dug up. An archaeologist will know about upper trenches and section lines — those questions can be asked now.
I want to revive the professionalism of the department.
With rapid urbanisation, heritage structures and monuments are perennially at risk in the city. How does the department hope to negotiate this?
We have to keep in mind that everything that can be excavated and recorded in the city has not been discovered yet. Archaeology is a continuous activity. Hence, urban planners should take into account that archaeological findings are possible all the time, so funds allocated for excavation are planted in planning. When work is stopped due to the discovery of an artefact or a ruin, we become ‘anti-development’. In the UK, USA or France, there is no department of archaeology doing excavations under the auspices of the government. There is salvage work, in which objects of archaeological interest are moved to other locations if discovered during infrastructural improvements. Some years ago, we discovered a stepwell-like structure in Mahim. Protecting that would have meant digging up the road, which wouldn’t have been feasible. However, we recorded the discovery.
How did you get interested in archaeology?
I was preparing to sign up for the defence forces when I realised that I like the practice of archaeology. It has some elements of being in the armed forces — pitching a tent and bring in trenches, for instance. It appealed to me that there could be a job that was a combination of groundwork and deskwork.