Everything will change. The only question is growing up or decaying. ~ Nikki Giovanni ~
For some time, I’ve been exhorting my friend to spare a day to visit Kolkata.
“But you’re in Kolkata,” my bemused friend would say. Which was right, since we lived in the south of the city, close to the EM Bypass.
I pressed on, though, for I was interested to see the city landmarks I’d seen long, long back. So, on the second Tuesday of 2017, we took seats on a local bus and then traveled by metro to Park Street station to see the National Museum which I last visited at least 25 years back.
And boy were I so, so disappointed!
For all my curiosity and enthusiasm, it was a hit by a sledgehammer, more so as my trip to Paris’ historic Louvre in September last was still fresh in my memory.
A comparison with Louvre or Musée du Louvre, the world’s largest museum or with the other landmark museum, Musée d’Orsay, across the river Seine is perhaps too far-fetched.
But hold on.
Indian Museum does have its own share of a glorious past.
Started in 1814, the museum is said to have in its stock over 100,000 rare collections of antiques, armor and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings. When it completed 200 years in 2014, the museum was closed to the visitors for 5 months for massive restoration and upgrades (really?).
The museum, as I witnessed, is like a skeleton of what it could be. Quite a few galleries are closed for renovation (for how long?), we’re told many rare collections are permanently locked away, there is dust everywhere, some portions are dirty with bird droppings, an apathetic staff unwilling to move from their seat resorts to shouting to control the unseemly crowd.
There are more replicas (of fish, reptiles, birds, animals, etc.) on the show than artifacts, which makes it unattractive to the visitors who want to know the history of mankind dating back hundreds and thousands of years.
The National Museum is an institute of national importance under the Constitution of India, its 8 coordinating services include education, preservation, publication, presentation, photography, medical, modeling and library.
From my little experience gathered after visiting some famous museums in other countries, I think it is NOT a good idea to mix
- education from watching replicas with
- genuine curiosity of people to know the human past from rare collections of antiques and artifacts.
The visitor profiles for the 2 types are completely different. This was evident during our visit when we witnessed huge unruly turnouts, mostly from schools and colleges, who, I’m certain, come more for fun than education.
We saw a few foreign tourists hastily ending their visits in just 10 minutes or so. They breezed through the galleries in absence of anything worth watching, I guess they could quickly find that spending 25 times more (Rs.500) than Indians (Rs.20) is a waste of both time and money.
Coming to the moot point, it’s time the authorities must decide –
- Should the 200-year old India’s oldest museum be made a scintillating place of exhibition for its formidable collections of rare artifacts?
- Or, should the museum continue as a dust-covered lackluster place for teaching elementary botany, zoology, and geology to the students of schools and colleges?
Should it be the second option, it may not be wrong to suggest that –
- The name of the museum be changed to Indian Museum for Elementary Botany, Zoology & Geology (after all the 2 institutions, the Zoological Survey of India in 1916, and the Anthropological Survey of India in 1945 started from here).
- The fees of Rs.500 be scaled down to around Rs.100 because – be practical – no foreign national will like paying 25 times more for learning something that is probably better taught and exhibited in their countries.
I cannot help but mention my visit to the amazing Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town in December 2015 (a ticket cost R135 or Rs.675) which is infinitely more attractive because you can see many of the species live instead of replicas in the Indian Museum.
It is time the Indian Museum authorities grow up as an adult. It is time they strive for excellence.
Here are two examples for inspiration.
So, is there ANY reason why the Indian Museum cannot change?
None, if you ask me, provided the guys in charge have some imagination and willingness to make things happen.
As of now, watching the museum and the absolutely distasteful hawker-infested pavements from Kyd Street crossing right up to Esplanade and beyond, there is simply NO HOPE for that happening anytime soon.
Fortunately, the gloomy experience at the Indian Museum didn’t dampen our spirit to see more of Kolkata as we walked all the way to the Princep Ghat via Dacres Lane in Esplanade East before heading home.
Here are a few pictures of the day.
What’s your take on Indian Museum? Share your views in the comments below.