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Young Storytellers’ Guild

At cave no. 9,Ajanta Caves,Akhtar Pervez is perched on a stone,watching tourists walking in.

Written by AmritaJain |
March 19, 2012 3:25:54 am

At cave no. 9,Ajanta Caves,Akhtar Pervez is perched on a stone,watching tourists walking in. He offers to tell them the story of these caves. His narrative is delivered in a loud and clear voice. His story is not like the parroted lines of professional guides; instead Pervez,28,talks about the caves as if they were old friends.

They are old friends,for Pervez,a resident of Aurangabad,grew up in their shadow. “Researchers,painters and photographers have come here and they needed help. I would assist them. They,in turn,gave me a better understanding of the area,” he says.

Pervez isn’t the only local who has been roped in to guide visitors and academics through monuments. A number of initiatives across India have realised that localites bring a personal perspective into a narrative about a site. Their renditions give history an emotional intensity and turn ruins into living memories.

In Delhi’s crowded Nizamuddin Basti,for instance,a heritage walk is in progress. At the helm is local lad Amir Ahmed,who points out the important places and the events that played out centuries ago. Yet,two years ago,Ahmed had no idea of the rich past of his birthplace. “I used to play cricket here with other boys. We would only regard these structures as purani imarat,” he says. He was trained in heritage by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). Today,Ahmed coordinates the volunteer’s self-help group of AKTC. “Our group consists of 15 boys from the basti. We undergo training,update our knowledge,plan routes and deliver talks to the locals about conservation,” he says. The group also conducts heritage walks at Humayun’s Tomb and recently started the Sufi Trail by Rickshaw to include Sufi shrines around Nizamuddin.

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In Bhuj,Gujarat,20-year-old Vimal Shah was selected for training at the tourism programme by Kutch University. Now,he works as a guide for three months during the annual Kutch Festival. “I have grown up in Bhuj and take pride in showing people around. It makes me realise the heritage value of this place,” he says.

Deeti Ray,Programme Officer,Cultural Revival,AKTC,says,“Our idea was to empower the locals. This would make them sensitive to their area and aid conservation efforts as well as provide employment opportunity to the locals. The self-help volunteer groups are very independent. After we train them,they plan walks and activities independently. We are only facilitators.”

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