GUWAHATI: A piece of the city's history literally went up in flames as the 103-year-old double-storeyed Rasul Lodge, residence of former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, was gutted in the wee hours of Sunday. The city's remaining heritage structures are struggling to survive and find breathing space in what is rapidly becoming a concrete jungle.
With maintenance costs spiraling out of control, most heritage buildings in the city are being eyed by real estate developers. There is a very real chance that high-rises will soon replace these elegant structures. Owners of these buildings also shy away from government interference in the name of heritage conservation.
Located near Latasil field, the iconic Barua residence stands tall with intricate woodwork and two small but distinguished spires. This semi double-storeyed house belongs to one of Assam's most illustrious families, known for its contribution in art, culture, politics and sports.
Mostly made of Burmese teak and supported with iron beams from Sheffield, the city's heritage buildings are still holding their own amidst nondescript high-rises. Museums are in the offing in some government-owned buildings.
"We get visits from real estate developers quite often. They came with lucrative offers. However, we are not interested in selling the house because of its history and legacy. Some of the most prominent sportsmen and cultural icons of the state hailed from this house. As long as the elders are alive, the house cannot be razed," said singer Ramen Barua, singer and a stakeholder in the Barua property.
"We are not keen on letting the government begin heritage preservation here as this will be place it in control of the authorities. Maintenance is expensive, but we manage," added Barua.
City chronicler Kumudehswar Hazarika said Guwahati witnessed a change in the construction of new buildings after it replaced Shillong as the capital. "The city had many heritage houses once. Now, most of them have been razed to make space for new buildings. Some owners have no option as these structures taking care of these structures is expensive and time consuming. The Barua residence, home to an illustrious family, is thankfully still standing," said Hazarika.
Heritage structures like Christ Church and Gauhati Baptist Church can trace their roots back to 1844 and 1845 respectively. The threat of obliteration is not new to either edifice. Both fell prey to earthquakes and were rebuilt in 1901 and 1914 respectively.
"Christ Church is under great duress. We began termite treatment three years ago, but the process is very expensive. We don't want to change the shape of it either," rued Rev Michael Herenz, in charge of Christ Church.
Other buildings that deserve a mention in the charmed circle include the Maharana Athletic Club, which dates back to the early 1900s, and the house of Ahom king Chandra Kanta Singha which was rebuilt in 1907.