But why, Mama?

So this Faberge exhibition was on at the National Museum in Delhi. It's been on since December and just wound up this Sunday. I happened to read an article about it in the newspaper supplement but with one thing and another we didn't manage to make it over until the last day of the exhibit. Interestingly enough, despite such a unique exhibit, there was so little publicity that most of the friends I contacted to ask if they wanted to go were not even aware that this exhibition was on.

The exhibits were fabulous. Each and every piece was crafted so delicately, with such precicion, love and attention to detail. What I found heartbreaking were the pictures of the Russian royal family - one of the eggs was a 15th aniversary present from Nicholas to Alexandra with three miniature photographs, of himself and two of the children, who both looked under 5 years old. It was presented barely a year or so before the revolution during which they were massacred. I just can't understand who would want to or have the heart to murder small children.

But that's another matter. The museum, as expected, was mostly deserted and the few visitors were either foreigners or students. The few signages that looked good were all for the Faberge exhibition. There were masses of sculptures from different centuries and geographies, all cheek by jowl with each other, with no reference to context or attempt to be organised in a particular manner to cast some light on Indian civilizational development. Something carved in 22 AD was randomly placed next to something carved in the 12th century. The labels were old, typewritten ones, crudely pasted on and giving the barest information - name of the figure carved, age and where it was found. There was no information placing the sculptures in a context or informing us why that piece was important.

The overall atmosphere of the museum was dull, uninspiring. We didn't see any signage that tempted us to visit more than the one exhibit we had come to see. The walls are dirty and the floor cold. The lighting is industrial, and one sees no guides to take one around, or a planned tour of the museum through signages. The museum shop is a bloody joke, with a half dozen things available, the prices crudely written by ballpoint and placed in a room whose door is hidden behind curtains as if to dissuade potential shoppers. Three staff members were sitting and gossiping among themselves when we went in, and didn't even bother to look up or offer to help us. The layout of the museum did not automatically end at the museum shop, potentially generating revenue for the museum. Outside the museum was an exhibit of a massive wooden rath made in Tamil Nadu in the last century. The route to the exhibit was through a muddy and wet lawn, with interested visitors having to step extremely gingerly. The poster explaining this exhibit was old and covered with mud, extremely verbose and hard to read.

Why are we like this? Has no one from the Ministry of Culture or Tourism ever bothered to visit a museum abroad - or are they too busy shopping while there to pay attention to how things are done? Why does no one care about preserving our past better and about safeguarding national treasures? These exhibits are priceless and could be real sources of revenue for the government, not to mention major tourist attractions. Would anyone dream of visiting Paris and missing out on the Louvre or London and not visit the Victoria and Albert? Why can't we, with a far older civilisation and any number of antiquities even do half as good a job?

My nephew, who visited us recently, has a steady stream of questions for his mom. Everything is met with a 'But why, Mama?' Most of the time, we don't have an answer to the rather existential questions he asks!


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dipali said…
Yes, the Natinal Museum is most uninspiring. The visiting exhibitions are usually much better.
The Faberge eggs look lovely, but I've only seen pictures of 'em.
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Amrita said…
God, we used to go there as schoolkids on excursions to get in touch with our proud past... a more depressing echo chamber I've seldom seen. And they have the space and the ability to make it so much more dynamic.

But then again, the less attention the better I suppose... the next thing we know, some right wing fundo will come along and trash some display he felt "hurt the sentiments" os X, Y, or Z.
bird's eye view said…
Dipali - it was amazing to see the Faberge eggs for real - had only seen them in books. Incredible crafstmanship, and so much thought has gone into each piece. The museum was a terrible location for their display, sadly.

Amrita - you're right. Next thing you know, the Ram sene will want to cover up the Khajuraho statues with cloth, like Victorians used to do to their sculptures

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