Sunday, December 26, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Jonas brothers were speaking for my entire generation and the generation before us when they sang-
As loud as it can
Wanna dance until my feet can't feel the ground (feel the ground)
Music's in my soul
I can hear it everyday, everynight
It's the one thing on my mind
Music's got control
And I'm never letting go, no no
I just want to play my music”
(From Disney’s Camp Rock)
“Don't you feel it growin', day by day
People gettin' ready for the news
Some are happy, some are sad
Oh, we got to let the music
What the people need is a way to make 'em smile
It ain't so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message-
Oh, oh, listen to the music
Oh, oh, listen to the
Oh, oh, listen to the music baby
All the time .”
(from Listen to the music by-Doobie Brothers)
Friday, November 19, 2010
I have always been surrounded by storytellers. My parents were excellent storytellers, so were my two sisters and even my husband. No wonder on most important issues of life, I cannot think without thinking of a parable. Today when I plan to write about the languages, their purity, their extinction and use…some of the most memorable tales of my childhood come to my mind.
Once I heard a story of Pt. Sakal Narayan Shastri, an upcountry Brahmin who came to Kolkata looking for employament. Someone suggested him to meet the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University – legendary lawyer Ashutosh Mukherjee . The VC asked him what all he has read. The answer was simple- “Published-I have read all, unpublished- whatever I could lay my lands on.” It took the university administration sometime to decide in which department such a person can be placed. He knew many languages, arts, philosophies and more. One hears about many others of that generation, who painstakingly learnt and mastered the languages .
Then we also know how like everything else the love for languages is also politicised in today's world.Langauges are looked upon as a political tool. They are imposed on people in tthe packaged deal for education, employment etc. While I appreciate the sentiment that people consider language as such an important ingredient of their identity, I can never appreciate why they need to compete .e.g. the biggest disservice to hindi was done when it was made rajbhasha and was imposed on people. IT harmed the language , made more people resist it, made more people against it. It nearly killed the literature of the language. Knowing Hindi become a profession after all. At the end of it - we have hundreds of Hindi Officers, Hindi academies, Hindi Directorates, Hindi Pakhwaras but very few Hindi lovers. Even those who speak it as their first langauge - do not feel proud of it. Do not know it too well. I wonder how many of us would be able to recall the old devnagari script in which hindi was written just about a hundred years back. And yet, no one learns by this experience. Each regional language and its speakers only think of making institutions to spread their tougues- no one really cares to spread the love for the languages- all of them. Going this way , we might just turn more people away from the languages - fom the joy of it, the thrill of understanding the symbols and scripts and the history they carry with them.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The moment we were out of Nairobi , it was a different world …..the great rift valley was open in front of us . It is vast in its expanse and suddenly reminds you about a chapter in your geography text book on fossils and the east African rift . If one word defines our journey from here it is –Bare . After a while even the road was over. It was just a pair of tyre marks in dusty way what we were following . But we were not alone .There were many cars like ours. For miles, there was nothing more than an occasional bush or tree here and there. O yes, before I forget there was a cathedral – built by prisoners of war from Italy in 1944. A small yet beautiful slice of Italy in Kenya . Later on I found that even America has many such cathedrals and chapels built by POW. I was so tired that even the heat or the bumps from the road could keep me awake. Next time I open my eyes , we were already passing through masaai villages. Masaai- is perhaps world’s most famous tribe , may be because of their distinct dress, height or may be location of their residence near the safari parks .While it was heartening to find some children in school dresses- it was very apparent that poverty and age old customs mark everyday life in this part of the world. They love their colourful dresses and have continued to wear their dresses but it would to assume that the influence of outer world has not reached them. Try clicking one picture and they shout “ dollar ! dollar!” with a strange smile . They too understand the cost of their exotic looks .
Its difficult not to get moved by Masaai mara. You see so many animals and birds that it thrills you . They are totally at home in this place. It is very visibly their home and you remain a visitor. They continue with their business uncaring of human eyes and camera shutters. Sometimes I got a feeling that some of them specially the lions even enjoy their celebrity status- they pose sometimes and sometimes they stubbornly hide while the cars full of eager tourist wait for their glimpse. I somehow did not like the way we humans track them . To my eyes it was almost breach of privacy ….but still we followed the drill . The great fun started next morning . We had debated about it for many days and finally decided to go for it. The expensive but very alluring hot air balloon safari – was something we were really looking forward. The day started early for this. By 5 we were already at our ‘launchpad” the balloon was getting inflated. We were accompanied by an elderly Japanese gentleman and a Kenyan family . The pilot and his girlfriend – a wildlife photographer completed the crew. In minutes our beautiful balloon was ready to fly. What an experience it was !!! Watching animals from up there. We saw so many of them. The reverse migration of wildebeests was still on….and we saw hundreds of them. The migrations of animals and birds are fascinating stuff. It makes you believe in the intricacies of plot written by the Great Scriptwriter for this world. They travel all over the globe- every year …and they rarely lose track. These wildebeests were of course going back to Serengeti , following the rain . It was an amazing sight , the way they follow in long lines of ‘immigration ‘ to Tanzania . The view from the balloon was superb. It was a majestic view of the animal kingdom and we saw zebras, cheetahs , elephants and giraffes. Then followed the wonderful breakfast right there in the middle of the forest. It was unbelievable and very exciting . The river mara was flowing behind us quietly .
Back home yesterday I happened to meet a senior in my office who is an Africa veteran and is working with UN for past many years .When I told him about my journey through Uganda and Kenya he gave a very knowing smile and said: “Wealth is not always in money – this is what you learn in that continent .Isn’t it ?” Well, I couldn’t agree more.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Every day while going for work , I list things typical of Uganda. I found you can’t miss three features of Kampala- Bikers- ready to sail you through the terrible traffic jams, the mobile company ads- which are literally painting the town pink, yellow, blue and orange and of course, the bananas. Then you can't miss the huge marabou storks. Now, anyone who has travelled in Uganda, particularly in Kampala, knows about the marabous. They are simply EVERYWHERE. They are scavengers of note. They are huge. They are semi-ugly, semi-pathetic- looking in the same way as very old men do - virutally bald reddish heads. In Kampala they sit on virtually all the trees; on the corners of buildings, on lampposts, in empty lots. They have a menacing feel about them, with their necks hunched into their wings like the boney shoulders of a creepy old man , almost ready to pounce. Other than these , whatever the Lonely planet guide tells you about the country and the city is right . Yes, people are extremely polite and friendly and the city is largely clean and welcoming . But you cannot miss acute poverty while you are here- as much as you can’t help noticing the simplicity of the people . It touches you very deep somewhere. The country runs on the funds of “development Partners” – Its their money that shows even in the remote parts . A young Japanese girl- here to manage one such fund , accompanied me to Queen Elizabeth National Park. We wondered her courage to come and work here – living alone, far off from home and in such different environment. But there are many like her- everybody here knows the Donors. They call shots and dictate terms . It’s ironic that same people who once tortured them as colonizers and rulers, today come back to them as consultants and businessmen – the equations of exploitation remain unchanged despite modern nomenclature.
As for local people they have a sad acceptance of fate- of bad systems – of unequal fight with disease and poverty. It almost breaks my heart when a well travelled , well off young man at AG office here informs me about the death of his 32 year old sister. It’s almost without emotion. She died after an unsuccessful cesarean- he tells me flatly. It was suppose to be her third child . People die of malaria, of AIDS and of childbirth all the time. Death and disease have been associated for so long that they have become part of life . And yet these people found things to celebrate, to dance and sing about. In the historical Makerere University Campus , where I am staying, it is difficult not to find groups of young collegegoers singing, dancing playing football and tennis. A gold medal at Commonwealth games is as much a cause of celebration as is winning a inter university match . Students in this campus look very simple, keen and pure .I know there are difficulties in their young lives- of drugs, of sexual abuse or HIV but it does not become apparent in the first meeting. Most of them come across as just shy youngsters happy and happening – curious about world and things around them .
Monday, September 27, 2010
“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”
Going by the above definition, ours is an extremely civil society. We do not mind eccentricities – we discuss them, pamper them and at times joke about them…but we do not discard them at all.
While reading a PG Wodehouse book one evening, this thought came to my mind about eccentricities- the so called sprinklings of madness each one of us has. Have you noticed how almost all Wodehouse characters have these peculiar traits. There are some who steal pigs, others who impersonate a psychiatric and my favorite , who paint moustache on the statues (for they like them better that way) . DO they appear unreal to you in anyways? Not to me, for sure. Those of you who have seen Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) would remember how most people around this girl have little eccentricities of their own. There are those who collected torn pictures from the bins, accountants who think they are perpetually ill and hate the words” fruits of thy womb” , some others who sneak at neighbours with a video camera , failed writers who like watching bullfights on TV , rejected lovers who spy while cracking bubble wraps, a waitress who likes to crack bones and even a cat who likes to overhear children’s stories. If you look carefully you’d find that eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride or may be just an habit. Genius and aristocrats are frequently regarded as eccentrics because they are entirely unafraid of and totally unaffected by opinions and vagaries of the crowd. But well, eccentricities are equally divided among all age groups, income groups and gender .
I too am particularly blessed with such people around me. So much so that at times I wonder whether it’s me who is responsible for attracting such characters around me . Oh but god bless them for being how they are…. Life would have been so dull if we had no such characters around. I keep telling them that one is only given a little spark of madness and one must not lose it. Generally I find that people have these happy obsessive preoccupations, and this gives them a significant meaning in life. And they are far healthier than most people because of these traits. It somehow makes them more human, more lovable and more acceptable in my eyes. I had a colleague who had only two interests- Dogs and Indian classical music. That his two interests have no common point never occurred to him. He sings either patriotic or sad songs in parties and loves to cook desserts. Another friend was a compulsive shopper for books- which he hardly ever read. My mom re-arranges fridge racks at least thrice a day and my secretary always smiles his sweetest when one is scolding him. Another colleague cannot help starting every sentence with “ No no- yes yes…ok ok “ and yet another ( a lady), regularly forgets her bag, notebook, even cosmetics in my room and then searches for it everywhere . My hubby knew someone in college who could not reply to a question without repeating the question first . Then there is favorite category of eccentrics - the professors and teachers. Aha...what a collection we had in them. Hubby had one who would bargain as a matter of principle on every small or big item - from rickshaw fare to vegetables and usually ended up paying more than the originally asked price . He bargains , next time again - as a matter of principle .
It’s interesting to watch people closely . A very senior officer of my service once told us how most people in bureaucracy are ophthalmologist- that is “I”- specialists and who love to talk about themselves to no end. It was a wonderful joke and all of us laughed - but then he continued for next 45 minutes explaining “ But then I am not like that. I like to….I do not like to…. And many more ‘I’s ” It was difficult not to find one of other such specimen while I was in Kolkata – the city which takes pride in its eccentricities . I had an accountant who was a practicing tantric, another who did PhD in Latin to read Paradise Lost in original. A boss who used to roll his own cigarettes to save money and another one who thought he was a reborn German soldier of WW-II . Best so far however , was my ex-boss , who loved to edit my drafts by replacing some words with their synonyms. When the fair copy will go to him...he will find yet another synonym. After about 6-7 such "corrections" in 90% cases my original word was back to its place and the boss had a smile of satisfaction pasted on his face which is usually found on gentlemen after a difficult task is achieved with perfection. In the Mussoorie academy we had an economics professor who always started his lecture with “ Suppose this gaaay ( guy) has 100 pepsi bottles…..” and one whose favorite adjective was "atrocious ". Then there is one interesting superior in hubby's office whose favorite phrases are " I do not like to beat my own trumpet" and " I am an artist by nature " . That these are sometimes followed by totally unflattering stories of his career never makes him see the contrast.
I am sure I too have some favorite words something which can be called eccentric . But then I have to rely on others’ for knowledge about that . Once a cousin told me that I am a bathing freak – as I used to take bath 4-5 times a day in summer months . Hubby adds that I am a control freak and mom says I freak out if I see too much stuff in the house and start throwing things in the wastebins. So the common adjective is ‘freak’ and if despite being a freak in one way or the other , if I am being accepted – I am sure ours is a civilized society .
Coming to the genetic aspect of eccentricities , I too with confidence can say like queen Elizabeth , about my family that like all the best families, we have our fair share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters , senile elders and of family disagreements. To begin with the eldest member of the family , my grand uncle , at the age of ninety two gives every one appointment to meet, including his maid and the postman. He even has fixed daily phone appointments with my aunts and uncles With me he holds a weekly appointment over phone …where conversation must end with a santa banta joke. Then I have aunts who watch teary soup operas, discuss them incessantly and then trash them as foolishness. It’s heartening to note that youngsters are also keeping the family flag high. My elder sis loves to visit markets and malls – where her favorite activity is to reject the stuff available on racks . Mind you, the lady is pretty fair in her dealings…she gives chance to all markets and all shops to reject their stuff regularly. Then I have a dear brother in law who hates curds but relishes Dahi bada made up of it . He cannot tolerate smell of mango and loves to drink mango drinks and then his elder brother - my better half, who insists that potatoes cut in round shape taste differently than those cut in finger chips . Sometimes I feel irritated by these habits of my family members but then honestly, life would be pretty dull if all of us have similar habits .
After all, if you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Do you ever get the urge of bursting in a song while you are in middle of a conversation- a serious one ? Well, I do. When I was a schoolgirl, a favorite cousin very wisely told me that we like the bollywood songs so much because somewhere in our mind we picturise them with us in it . I thought it was a joke at that time. Now I believe in it . No wonder I think musicals are very real cinema. I feel disappointed that we , in India experimented with musicals (the Broadway kind) in very few projects . I can recall Amol Palekar’s Thoda sa Roomani Ho Jaye and some of Sai paranjape’s movies say Katha . But other than that though songs were part of most movies, they were not musicals in the Broadway style. I mean in Indian movies, characters do not burst in the songs while doing normal chores. Songs do not replace dialogues mostly ….they are carefully woven in the storyline. Occasions are created for them .The main function of musical numbers in Bollywood films remains to express emotion. Broadway musical numbers, on the other hand, primarily drive the plot. While Broadway musical numbers are integrated into the narrative, Bollywood musical numbers usually are not. Rather, they’re metaphors, removed from the plot, that show how a character feels, not what the character is actually doing.
But what I miss is movies like My fair Lady , Singing in the Rain ,more recent ones like Mamma Mia, Chicago, Moulin rouge, and Enchanted ………..and many many more . The 1950s and 1960s Hollywood musicals are my all time favorite. However it is heartening to find that the trend of making musicals has not stopped since then. Most of Disney's movies including animations are musicals. The recent High school Musical series was fabulous and I adore Glee on Star world .
India we did not experiment with this genre much.Some Devanand and Gurudutt movies came pretty close to be categorized with these but mostly mainstream cinema in India remained non Broadway musical that is with music- dance sequences only. Such a shame , if you ask me.
It seems perfectly normal to me that people at times may like to sing and dance while going through their normal daily life. I also feel at times the words of a song describe our feelings much more aptly than any length of prose. No wonder at times I find people humming a particular song in a particular mood. There are songs which remind us of some event or someone and there are songs which remind us of ourselves in a particular mood. We all have songs associated with college days , school days, birthdays , our friend circle and many other such milestones of life. But still most of us , even those who love songs and movies, would be shocked to find someone singing publicly . Almost how the guy in Enchanted was embarrassed when Princess Giselle burst into her song in the Central park, NY .
My friend Rani tries hard, not to start singing loud while in office or with her hubby . Her husband like many others feel that bursting in a song is unreal . I too resist my urge to sing --- mostly . But I do sing loud with the radio, when I am alone in the car and of course, I am an experienced bathroom singer. But even on other occasions it is difficult not to imagine a song in my mind. Try this, it is very de-stressing to imagine a song with you in its picturisation while you are in between a boring meeting /conference. Or still better, give lines to each of the persons sitting with you( of course in your mind). This game is so hilarious that at times I find myself smiling or giggling while others give me puzzled look. But take it from me that this is just a poor substitute of the joy you can feel rushing into you while singing out loud. Uncaring of your creaking voice, unaware of the frowns from others and ignoring the astonished look of people walking with you. Its most liberating feeling that dawn on you when you unbind yourself from what others will say. It is almost magical. So take my advice and next time you find Julie Andrews declaring hills to be alive with the sound of music, do not hesitate in joining her in her declaration. …and remember to do it aloud . Musicals , I repeat , are manifestations of how things should be - alive , happy and moving .
Thursday, September 2, 2010
After this , I moved on alone exploring the town I hardly remember . It was kind of empowering not to belong here.I had few hours of a lovely evening and I knew no one and cared for no one this time . I started from the rivers. After all the presence of these holy rivers and their confluence is one of the biggest claim to fame for this town from past many centuries. I climbed stairs for the new Naini bridge and looked around the beauty of the river . The fort built by emperor Akbar was visible from there . Except for occasional fishermen trying their luck the ghats were almost deserted. The rivers were full with monsoon supply and the setting sun provided excellent background.
On my way back I looked for the Gora Kabristan ( The British Graveyard) at kydganj . It was difficult to resist visiting this old cemetery . But with ASI in charge , the gates were locked and no one was around except the blue board declaring it a protected monument .I cursed ASI once again . But then when have I considerred closed gates a bar for y curiosity– specially if they are gates to a such an old cemetery . So while my driver looked incredulously , I jumped the gate . In a very touching gesture, protectively, he followed suit- nodding disapprovingly all through . The place is a must go for anyone tracing history of the place . This being an old cantonment town, the graves are usually of army officers and their families. Once again like the Park street cemetery of Kolkata , the age profile of the dead is generally below 30 . Mostly the tombstones were missing . I could read one , remembering Margaret, 23, a wife and mother who succumbed to disease in 1808. It is somewhat moving that these people died on a foreign land ...so young ...so vulnerable to heat and mosquitos . From there , I went to see All Saint Cathedral – my favorite stone church and found that locked too. To my driver’s relief I did not jump anymore gates. The church compound was green and untidy with the undergrowth of weeds and grass. But somehow despite all the mess, the building is a stunner . I looked the evening light on it mesmerized . I think I had more than enough share of replenishment for my memories of this town for one evening .
I know, I still do not want to live in this town…but at least now, I do not miss the beautiful British bunglows lining the civil lines , the old trees around the cathedral and most of all , my alma mater- the university .
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Incidentally the train experience is also never uniform. Its different while you travel in the toy train from shimla and different when you travel in Konkan railways. I cannot help remembering the happy days of my two Bharat Darshans when we had spent a lot of time(usually nights) in the trains. It is great fun to travel in a group. The continuous singing , teasing, dumb charade and chatting is unforgettable. I still remember when from my university- we were taken on a study tour. What fun we had in train journey to and fro. Of course it must be a nuisance for the fellow passengers. A bunch of noisy college goers are hardly ideal travel companions and we really behaved like brats. So much so our HOD had to get up in the night and shout at us. The giggling and pillow chats continued despite that . Travelling is always interesting, but the flood of memories most of us face while travelling by trains is incomparable . Each one of us has his/her own unforgettable train times.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Though most Indian cities are now losing their old character – at least the very visible sights of it, Lucknow always celebrated festivals in style. Even when the new stuff is paving way for the old…it was the mix of the two I found in my town this time. Well, we might have new Barista and Café coffee day now….we still have our Royal café. But for some of us the change is unsettling . You can’t blame us. Those of us who left the city years back , now go back there and try to look for familiar sounds, sights and smells to renew our days . Alas, things change…and so do cities. An old shopkeeper in Hazratganj told me that the Mehfils which marked the hours after Iftar are gone . In very characteristic lehza he bitterly told that no one bothers about the usual chit chat unless they are in a TVchat show and getting paid to talk
The point I am trying to reach is that while I find ( and feel happy to find) malls, multiplexes and known food chains wherever I go , I do feel a pang in my heart for the era that is lost. Its not only about eateries . I wonder who will remember the floral rakhis on rakshabandhan few years from now. These rakhis made from real flowers and customized as per the insistence of the sisters buying them, were visible at every florist shop of lucknow till 3-4 years back. I try telling myself that these things hardly matter. If we looked for those rakhis in our days the new generation has fancy gadgets and chocolates to find on this day .
But the sense of missing a part of my familiar world does not go easily . Everytime we have a family gathering my aunts and sisters end up talking about old family recipes and efforts made to make those perfect pickles, papad and other mouthwatering dishes meant for special occasions. I always loved the festival of janmashtami and the fast which comes with it . Being the foodie I am , the reason was the special dishes made up of dryfruits, coconut and other stuff. The vrat food which was “allowed” in a fast. The tradition is almost lost in my family. Even I do not care to make these delicacies in my home . The food we eat is mostly the same throughout the year . The joy of eating khichuri on a particular day and roasted green gram on other has given place to easier options. Of course, we have adopted many more dishes in our menu but the tradition of making a particular dish for a particular festival/day is not there anymore. May be the next generation will not miss these traditions- we have afterall not passed it on to them . For kids in my colony these “ minor” festivals are just school holidays and they feel happy about it by watching their favorite shows or playing computer games . It is in vain to feel sorry about old things which are going out of fashion. It is somewhat inevitable. Perhaps it is more important to hold on tightly with our values . I just hope that we are missing on just the most visible parts of legacy and not the most important ones. I mean as long as families enjoy happy times together , it hardly makes a difference whether it is in a family gathering eating traditional kheer or enjoying a TV show eating pizza.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
I am very clumsy when it comes to console anyone grieving for a loss, a failure or a disappointment. Last night I did some introspection on it . Actually the Civil services Prelims results are out and a very dear bunch of youngsters who are very close to me and hubby, failed to make it this time. Social niceties expect me to talk to them and say- It’s alright. But then, saying “it’s alright “goes against my nature. I was unable to say these two words to myself when I failed earlier. Even now I firmly believe that any failure, any disappointment is not alright. Well, I am a big sucker of the self motivation books- ‘Think like a winner!’ Success is never ending!’ ‘Tough times never last ‘….and many more. I regularly read and distribute the fable like stories say- The Little prince, The Alchemist etc. But God knows, I am totally unforgiving when it comes to failure. Mine or of people around me. My best friend some time back joked that phoenix must be my favorite bird. If one lesson I have learnt from failure is that it just shows –the best was not good enough. For me every exam, every challenge and every assignment is like a riddle. There is at least one solution available….and in most cases there is one best solution too. All I need to do is to find this one. But failure is never alright ….I do not actually agree with the fatalist philosophy of: May be god has a better plan. I know that whatever I can desire, I can make it happen to me and around me. It’s just a question of mental strength….a question of believing that you deserve better.
But what to do with the socially required consolation? I know I mutter some words half heartedly—but I do not believe in them. I also totally despise self pitying people – people who feel devastated just after a failure or two. Have you not met people who keep dwelling on their failures- sometimes for rest of their lives? Sometimes blaming the circumstances or others for it …or even worse blaming themselves and feeling terribly sorry. People who carefully nurture their fears and phobias and ensure they do not get the most desirable deal out of life in this process. Even the best and most sincere people around me rely on fears and tears while dealing with failures. I wonder why they do not feel ANGRY the way I do when I fail. Guess, it is easy to feel sorry about oneself. But the sad part is this feeling sorry phase does not end till it convinces you that may it was ‘ alright ‘ to fail….may be you never deserved what you aspired for. I respect people who learn to see silver lining in the darkest cloud too but I admire those who fight till they leave all dark clouds behind them.
In my opinion, the only way one can turn failures into successes is by not accepting failures. Dwelling them just to learn where the riddle’s best solution was missed and going ahead once again with much stronger resolve to succeed. Most people fail to do that. Failure is never okay-because it stops you from being where you wanted to be. …at least for some time. That time may be precious…it may never come again. That you might get to live life full of beautiful moments /great experiences meanwhile, is another story . I know many people who because of some failed dream accidently found their true vocation, true partner and true destination. But that is not the point. While internet is full of motivational stuff telling you - how to turn failure into success and while many are making a career out of this –my policy is simple. I can do anything I put my mind to. I can do it; I can do it, IF I put my mind to it.” Saying this to yourself and BELIEVING it does not come naturally to most people. And that perhaps ensures that the winner stands alone at the top!
So even at a risk of sounding cruel and competitive I'd say that failure is very easy to live with , fears become old pals if you allow them to accompany you all the time - its the succcess which is difficult to hold and get habituated to .
Monday, June 14, 2010
Yesterday , with my 12 year old nephew I visited two museums. First was the Nehru memorial, Teen murti bhawan museum and the second was Shankar’s international Doll’s Museum. Both places need immediate repair, renovation and upgradation. Since then I am thinking about the condition of museums I have seen. The earliest necessity to house objects of antiquarian remains dates back to late 1796 AD when the Asiatic Society of Bengal felt the need to house the enormous collection of archaeological, ethnological, geological, zoological pursuits. However, the first museum by them was started in 1814. The nucleus of this Asiatic Society Museum later provided to the Indian Museum, Calcutta. I had one of my first assignment to audit security and preservation of artefacts in these three of the most important Indian museums at Kolkata. This is what we found . It was a sad picture of how ignorant and uncaring we could be towards our heritage. And its not about only museums of historical importance - generally (mis) managed by ASI. The same holds true for science museums, Art museums, even about museums related to Railways, dolls and other such articles. These days people hardly visit museums. These days government hardly takes care of museums. Very few scholars are passionate about the preservation of our national heritage and people generally managing these institutions are sadly, apathetic and disinterested. How else you can explain the pathetic condition of Red fort ….all water bodies dry, all buildings bearing a sad look and ugly ropes barring visitors to go near. People are still visiting these places…but I wonder what will they learn. Few years back in Qutub Complex in Delhi, while visiting with an international group, we found a ASI approved guide telling all kinds of fictional stories about the place. He even mentioned authority of his stories as a Rupee 10 worth book printed in Delhi. Not only this, in Fatehpur Sikri at Agra, we had a guide telling us about the most important event related to the place- shooting of movie Pardes, for which Shahrukh khan came to the place. I am sure emperor Akbar turned in his grave every time this was mentioned. Its not only history about which we are insensitive . We have a similar disinterest for art and science too. Tagore’s Shantiniketan( now Vishwa Bharti University) has statues and murals made by world famous artists lying in open subjected to elements of nature …some in state of crumbling. Similar is the fate of Tagore’s original paintings lying in the stores of the Kala Bhawan for years. National Library at Kolkata also gave the horrifying picture of neglect- people working there do not love the books they collect. Much like the curators of the museums. I wonder what is the condition of state museums at Allahabad, Mathura and Sarnath….which I visited as a child. I know things are pretty shabby at Lucknow, Agra and in Shimla. Many of the old sites and site museums are in the hands of trusts who do not care to look after them.
Its not that there are no efforts to improve the condition of these museums- for example the Lucknow Residency Museum is pretty good so are some of the museums in Rajasthan . I also met a very impressive curator at Coochbehar sometime back- who was very passionate about restoration and preservation of Coochbehar Palace museum. But such efforts would not do much till we find common people interested in history and curious about the things stored in these museum. I found that most young parents feel that books and CD ROMs can give the knowledge required for their kids and they do not need to see the places and things . They rarely take kids to museums- even schools these days organize visits to fun parks and picnic spots rather than museums . No wonder kids neither find the dusty manuscripts and statues appealing nor understand their value . Surprising in Delhi where we have perhaps the biggest numebr of museums , we also have the most apparent dislike to visit the museums. People do not visit NGMA, National Museum or Museum of Natural History unless they have any specific reason to do so. Very few know about the memorial museums and their condition- while some of the prime properties of Central Delhi have been taken to house these . Most Delhites would rather go to a mall than to the beautiful National Crafts museum . Very few would know about the National philatelic museum or Rail Museum .
The more I see the world ,the more ashamed I feel about our apathy for our museums and our heritage stored in these museums. In Shanghai while visiting the Shanghai city gallery at pearl tower I wondered why we do not have such gallery for any of our old cities. The only similar gallery I can think of is Calcutta Gallery at Victoria Memorial hall…which is on a much smaller scale and well, needs serious up gradation . I keep on hearing about upgradation of museums like Shankar’s Doll Museum or Rail Museum too. But the efforts do not seem very apparent. Our apathy for showcasing our heritage was also visible at Shanghai Expo where the Indian pavilion has old cutouts and pictures only to showcase our culture. We do not bother to make multimedia films like China. People tell me that almost all old cities in India have material comparable to full countries of western world…but they go far far ahead from us in showcasing and preserving their heritage. London and Paris for example, remained world class cosmopolitan cities but always gave due importance to their heritage. I wonder why we , Indians , can not be like that ?