Vinod Daniel lives in Sydney, Australia, but visits his hometown Chennai thrice a year. As Chairman of Australia’s Network for Cultural Heritage Services, he explores possibilities of revival or preservation of traditions, both in India and abroad. He speaks to Kannal Achuthan on why every community needs to preserve its heritage.

It is not every day that a chemical engineer becomes an advocate for heritage conservation. For Vinod Daniel, however, it was his prowess in chemistry that drew him into the world of tradition and culture.

Mr. Daniel, who was in the city recently, describes his work as “second track diplomacy” to strengthen relations between India and Australia. He heads AusHeritage, a network for cultural heritage services. The network has several projects in India, the latest of which looks at revival of traditions in north eastern states.

“Cultural tourism is a significant contributor to employment,” says Mr. Daniel. A lot of businesses are closely connected to tourism. For instance, several small trades depending on tourism operate around the world famous Taj Mahal.

Sense of identity

Mr. Daniel believes that cultural heritage gives both the community and the individual a sense of identity.

“There are both tangible and intangible forms of culture. A temple tank is tangible. An ancient form of story-telling could be called intangible. Both forms need to be preserved.”

An alumnus of Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School, a graduate in chemical engineering from IIT–Delhi and postgraduate from IIT–Madras, Mr. Daniel often looks for traces of his boyhood days in Chennai whenever he visits the city. “Chennai has changed a lot,” he says.

Mr. Daniel moved to the U.S. in 1987 for a second postgraduate degree in Chemical Engineering. He then started work with the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. His knowledge of chemistry helped him work with eco-friendly materials to preserve old maps and works of art at the trust’s museum.

In 1995, he moved to Australia and has, since, worked on several assignments to promote heritage.

More support

He believes that countries and cities that transform rapidly need to provide more support to cultural heritage before it gets phased out. “The big monuments get support. But it is smaller, intangible forms of heritage that get lost.”

The heritage advocate acknowledges that not all buildings with heritage value can be saved. But, preservation of buildings and parks that hold value for the local community is important. “AusHeritage has a few projects in north India. We hope to start a few in the south soon,” he adds.