Monday, January 18, 2016

Price tag on cultural experiences?

I have been a part of a number of walks in my favourite city, Delhi, over the past few years. The key to most of the walks was the cost associated with them. While I have never really attended any walk priced over Rs 450, my recent collaborations as an organiser of walks in Delhi over the past two months has lent an interesting insight into the concept.

A picture from #alpaviram's collaboration with #delhibymetro for a walk to Ugrasen ki Baoli

What am I paying for? My worst experiences on a walk were mostly when the lead walker, organiser, rattled numbers and years that I could read out of a book! I found a complete lack of a personal connect with the destination or experience offered and that really put me off. Who wants to pay another person any amount to know what is freely available in books? The walks I have loved were the one where the person leading the walk gave me limited but interesting information. They did not try to show off their knowledge or their ability to rote. It was heartfelt.

A picture of my favourite Delhi walk leader, historian and film buff - Sohail Hashmi. Forever indebted to you sir.

Heritage walks should be chargeable only if there is something unique being offered. I do not endorse or suggest people to attend paid walks that are nothing more than walking through lanes and reading off signboards. Please remember that our heritage is freely available to all. Why would you want to pay Rs 500-800 to walk through a well-marked monument that has an entry fee of only Rs 10-20?

A frequent argument is that people do not respect what they get for free. But that's not really true. The past two months have seen me help organise five free events and everyone of them had a respectable audience. One of the young men who turned up for our walk has now launched free walks of his own as well with our help. There are serious people out there who believe, like me, that our culture should not be commoditised for the benefit of a handful. Creating product lines of our cultural heritage is a rather poor way of encouraging domestic participation. And we, the people who live and breathe this culture, are in dire need for better platforms to converse on.

Join us on our next walks ( and see for yourself. The best things in life, at least a few, are still free.

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