museum studies

Sangrahalya se Parichaya: An introduction to Museums and Museum Studies- part 1

Needless to say I am terribly interested in understanding museums, museums as both tangible and conceptual space. Museums the display, museums the experience, museums where history comes alive, museums where stories are reborn and recreated; Museums as centre of education, museums as spaces of collaboration, museums where art lives (1), museums where audience need not just receive, but also gives;

Ah, well, yes I also dream a bit, dream of the space many of our rich museums are yet to attain, but are on their way.

This interest is definitely not recent, however, the restlessness sure is, I want to know everything about museums, their origin, their purpose, their scope today and possibilities tomorrow.

Do I sound a bit dramatic, well, what is passion sans drama!

I shall however not follow a chronological order in sharing my learning, my attempts, rather I would share whatever sticks to me and leaves a strong impression, definitely this is not a blog post without biases.

I would begin with a conversation with a gentleman I met yesterday. He was driving the auto-rickshaw and I was carrying my portfolio, so he asked whether I was an architect. I said I am not, but I am very well interested in spaces. What kind of spaces, he asked. I obviously replied, Museums.

He was shocked, and he did not attempt at hiding it. In fact, I think he was disappointed. He expected a young woman with a portfolio to be talking about new “modern” buildings, about urbanism, about malls and offices, glass and shine, and here she is, talking about , museums? He ridiculed my naive attempts at explaining to him why museums matter, why they are not supposed to be a passive storehouse as most of us imagine, rather they are places that we can co-create. He asked me, in a museum if there is a stone statue of Buddha lying somewhere, well that is that, what more can you do about it?

I tried to explain storytelling, experience blah, borrowed theories from internet and journals, but he simply asked me to think about it, the day I do have a concrete answer, come to Hailey Road, where he stands, and share it with him, he would wait.

Where on one end I could have treated this with exasperation and said, look how we treat our museums, look how we perceive these institutions, I wouldn’t. I take it as a very positive challenge, I take it as a sign to go ahead in the stream I have chosen and to work hard, to ensure that I don’t just find answers but implement the necessary steps.

Does this sound like a plot stolen from Bollywood? Well Bollywood and life, that is interchangeable, you didn’t know?

And as if it were planned, as if it were meant to be so, I have begun to get my answer.I would share something beautiful that occurred today. I was introduced to the Indus Valley Civilization like never before and was for once genuinely enthralled by the mystique of the great civilization, the thoughts, the words, the language of which is yet to be deciphered.

We were introduced to this collection at the National Museum by esteemed art historian  Dr. Shobita Punja, CEO of the National Culture Fund , author and also educator at various institutions.

Her session was an absolute delight and very inspiring indeed. The joy and passion with which she narrated the story of the Civilization, when she spoke of the glory of discovering it to be comparable to other ancient civilizations i.e. Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Chinese, that pride my friend was infectious. I was dumbstruck throughout her session where time flew by, I couldn’t believe it had to end so soon.

That is the power of brilliant heartfelt narration, your audience gets immersed in an experience so deep that they are surprised when it ends, it actually does not end, it leaves you thinking and curious.

When she made us notice details on pots, when she discussed why she liked a particular object so much, you shared her curiosity, her queries, her imagination. Imagination! that is what she brought alive for me today, when she reminded us of a beautiful space within history, that of “historical imagination”, something that lies between material proof and intangible assumption, something that allows one to respect the “maybe”.

The “maybe” in history, is what she asked us to never forget, and to always use when we share stories with those whom we guide around the museum. I was mesmerised, wow! that is the passion of a historian, of a researcher, a storyteller, she made us live a certain time, she made us think about a certain time, she made us imagine the possibilities, without anything other than the display and her narrative.

I was overwhelmed when she spoke of a toy cart and explained its relevance as a signifier, how it would matter so much to a historian. Cart signifying travel, signifying trade, signifying carrying of produce from villages to cities, signifying therefore the presence of cities surrounded by villages, villages that perhaps produced in abundance, such that it could be sold outside as well. It is not just a cart, not just an object, it has many stories embedded within it. It speaks of people and society, the system, the economy, and to think that it is a toy cart alone is sheer sacrilege.

The most delightful bit was when she spoke about the Mother Goddess statue. If you have studied history in ICSE board, you would remember that black and white photograph of Mother Goddess, guess what, there is no concrete proof to say that it is a Mother Goddess, it could be anyone, it could even be a lady dressed in a certain fashion on a particular occasion, these are all but “assumptions”, assumptions that delight or help make sense of a certain civilization, but are assumptions nonetheless. I suddenly felt this surge of gratitude, if only we were taught history like this in school. If only we knew that there is no one single way to look at our past, that the rigidity, the certainty with which mainstream education claims certain facts, might be much more flexible and inclusive in the real world outside. That History is not past, history is in the present, history in the mind, in the thoughts, in the interpretation, in the imagination, it is alive, it is breathing, it flows, it is a bit organic.

I wish I were agile enough to thank her, to share this with her, but i was awestruck, I was so pleasantly surprised by her very presence that I just kept beaming like a child who has chanced upon her favorite sweets at a place most unexpected, or maybe balloons gifted for free, or maybe cotton candy, or maybe just the realization that this learning has begun, that I would find answers, Oh the joy of it all!

There is so much more to share, in further posts 🙂




Works Cited:

1: Tagline from Milwaukee Art Museum

gender and sexuality · image identity · reflections

Getting to know “me” – body image

There is a certain ‘me’ that I have never been one with, the ‘me’ that is my body, the ‘me’ that is my physique, my skin, my hair. I have always looked at this bit of ‘me’ borrowing the gaze of an outsider, an outsider who lacks both the proximity and empathy I must experience but unfortunately don’t.


I remember as a teenager, when I first spotted hair growth on my legs, my world continued as it were. It was only a friend of mine- well aware of worldly affairs and stereotypes-who pointed out at those and asked me to get my legs waxed.

I was filled with sudden shame, a certain stigma, as if hair are not natural, as if I am the only living being blessed with those. I followed her advice and began to get my feet waxed at quite an early age. I have grown up in a town where you might end up being horribly waxed all your life and not even realize that the experience need not be this bad. I went through the trauma of burns and skin allergies only to realize later that the employee at the salon hardly knew what she was doing, she had no sense of temperature, of hygiene and definitely lacked humane sensibility, considering the cruelty with which she carried out this task.To come upon a solution, I stopped wearing  skirts and shorts for some years, something I loved, but just let go, as I let go of many more things as time passed. I have seen men with hair popping out of every crevice, they don’t hide, why should I? Why should I be compelled to hide? Why should I be mocked at if I don’t?I rarely frequent the salon now though, honestly I don’t care that much anymore.

DO you have whiskers? I do, I discovered this lately. For the first few days, I think I was in depression. Hair on the face!! This is it, life has come to an end! I don’t know why, but we all desire a certain permanence in how we look, in how we “maintain” ourselves, so even I took my sweet time to accept this inevitable change and many others that human body would go through. I know that one day I will have a wrinkled skin, but I still don’t like to believe it. Why?

White hair, well premature greying is now a norm. I am gonna go all white pretty soon. I have not been spared by anyone in my proximity. I have heard different forms of comments, whether its about ageing, or ugliness or vitamin deficiency. Why the hell should I even consider your foul smelling henna? I am not interested, why are you so perturbed by how my head appears?

Vaginal Hair, poor souls, I know you suffer much ridicule from many, even I made you feel really sorry for your existence. If your boyfriend demands a clean waxed vagina, punch him. period. No one has the right to demand anything from you, from your body, every body deserves to be celebrated and loved, first and foremost by the one who resides in it. Date a man who respects your body, cares for its well being, its good health, than looks forward to a plastic doll, why not buy him a nice robotic sex toy then?

I am acquainted with women who are scared to death during pregnancy for they fear changes, they fear that their men would not find them attractive enough. This is the lowest form of self-esteem and self-love my friends, you are not an object which has to stay as it were when acquired, you are not in a relationship based solely on how you appear to your partner, your partner is not as lacking in love and respect as you probably imagine, and lots more than I could say here. anyway, maybe later.

Lets move on to:


For as long as I can remember, I treated them as someone alienated from my own self. I was disturbed at first, and slowly embarrassed. I remember a friend of mine who would call me names because I was heavy breasted, I decided to never run, I haven’t run for very long. I still feel conscious of breasts bouncing and catching attention. I do not understand why women do this to other women? Why can’t we accept that everybody is different?

On our farewell from school, I felt shy and awkward in a sari, for I felt that my blouse made them prominent, I could have also felt beautiful, wholesome, but no, I had borrowed someone else’s perception, and disliked what I saw in the mirror.

Men of course take it to another level altogether, from lewd comments and gestures, to being forcefully touched, squeezed and pinched, I think my poor breasts have indeed suffered much at the hands of horny douchebags all around.

At times, when that stupid bra makes me feel suffocated, I want to throw it away and just let my breasts breathe freely, but I lack the courage to do so. You won’t believe it, but I wear a bra and sleep at night, so scared am I of letting them be, there I go again, let me correct, so scared am I of letting me be me.


I hide my belly, I have almost always hidden it from everyone. A reason was also the fact that I have never had a flat one, but still, there is no need for the paranoia that I nurture. In the last few years I discovered a discoloration on my belly, something that my grandmother got at a very old age. I thankfully took it in stride unlike the other changes, but it did require much rationale from my adult ego.

There are times when wearing a belt hurts my belly, but in the fear of falling trousers exposing the crack of my bum, I keep the belt on, and allow my belly to suffer, I think this much penance for nothing is sheer stupidity.


We were acquainted as poornima and Chhee Chhee. Chhee Chhee is not to be touched for it is dirty (basically a way to assure that little girls don’t discover the joy of masturbation). Chhee Chhee is to be protected, Chhee Chhee, if gets infected, UTI, then it should not be spoken of loudly. Chhee Chhee should be hurriedly cleaned and avoided.

That is some of the nonsense that surrounded my vagina’s reputation.

I never related the lobes and lips one studied of in biology with my real organ. I never even attempted at marvelling that how through this passage I might deliver a child one day. All of this is not a discourse, it should not be thought of. In fact, to be honest I hardly ever looked at my Vagina, and consequently, would not want it to be looked at either. This is pushing me towards acknowledging the extremely unhealthy understanding of sex and sexual relationships I had, but I won’t get into it here.

When I would have a discharge, I just knew I am to be disgusted, I never understood what it was, whether it was fungal, whether it was normal menstrual discharge, whether it was due to stomach infection, I just never understood. I do so now, and I am much relieved.


They are only meant for Potti. Apart from that, I never acknowledged their existence. I never noticed how they were, I never tried to look at them. I despised the fact that when you make love, they would be seen. I hid them as well, I wore long t-shirts, loose pants, because those with tight jeans were considered to be amoral when I was really young and I borrowed those tweaked notions of morality and sexuality. Later after being conveniently slapped at my ass by random men on the road, I made it a point to hang my backpack real low. It made me conscious, I still am, I hate it when I wear my skirt, knowing that it would make my bum stand out in all its glory. I wish I could enjoy that, i wish I could calmly and happily walk with a bounce, rather than a manly stride that i copied from my brothers.


My legs were called logs, because they were always very fat. I don’t have the long slender legs you see in photoshopped images, I have shorter ones. I have never been proud of them. I have never thanked them for making me move, for allowing me to enjoy the thrill in a bicycle ride, for letting me grant a kick or two. I just have them, that is all.

I wish I could respect them, and even take care of them, walk more often, run, give them that strength they firmly demand. But no, I just treat them as passive logs. What shame!

I wish I were more at ease with how I am, now that I am beginning to be so, I decided to share it, a move I might have been nervous about or scandalized by earlier, but i think that if I wish for all women and men to love themselves and not be embarrassed of body parts then I should probably begin with letting go of my own inhibition, of accepting my eccentricities and uniqueness, of acknowledging my redundant fears.

Love yourself, Love your complete self.


If you felt this made any sense, you might enjoy this blog post as well:











personal narratives

Warm Deeds- Daily Musing

I was humbly moved today, by the actions of a man and two dogs.

Having volunteered as a school tour guide at the National Museum, Delhi, I was attending their Orientation Programme. While taking rounds of the museum and listening to an excited volunteer guide sharing information about various objects, their contexts and stories, I suddenly felt sick.

By the time I left for home, I was in immense pain and was finding it difficult to walk. I thought I would faint. I threw up and could feel the sweat on my face. I panicked.  With great difficulty I asked the auto rickshaw drivers- who had been waiting outside- to take me home, none agreed. It was too far. I could feel the sickness in my mouth, but managed to hail another rickshaw. The driver stopped and before I could say where I wanted to go, he asked me to sit and said he would go, wherever.

He dropped me home, he drove fast with a sense of urgency, I was grateful to him. When we reached, I asked him where he stayed. He told me it was the opposite end of Delhi. I was surprised, why he came to drop me here then, he said he had to, others would not have, and I had looked unwell.

I turned to go towards the house, only to realize that it was locked. In my haste I had forgotten to inform of my time of return. I lacked the willpower to climb three floors and go to my neighbours’ house. So I just sat on the ground. I was immediately joined by two dogs who stay near our house, are often fed by us and play with me every day. They sat next to me, as if in solidarity. When I moved to a shaded bench, they followed and slept next to me. I felt humbled by their sweet gesture, at times, when you feel horrible, it is nice to have company of friends.

critique · history · image identity · india · reading culture

nibandh: cultural pradarshani

cultural pradarshini mein aapka swagat hai

iskey liye kucch sthanon par aapko ticket khareidne ki avashyakta hai, bakiyon mein ekdum muft muft muft!

cultural pradarshini ki shuruat aapke ghar se hoti hai aur poore shahar mein aapko yeh sthan sthan par dikhai degi.

chahe billboard ho ya window display, chahe restaurant ho ya tailor ki dukaan, koi mall ho ya cultural haat/festival, cultural pradarshani ka kafi bolbala hai

yeh adhiktar upri satah par dikhlai padti hai, bahar aur andar mein ghor antar hone ka sandeh to hai, lekin aap uspar mat jayein, aap upri ‘spectacle’ (1) mein apne aapko kho dein, yahi is pradarshani mein doobne ka ekmatra tareeka hai

pradarshani ka apne current sthal ke itihaas se shayad koi lena dena na ho, par usse uska mahatv kam na honein de, akhirkaar yeh pradarshani itihaas ke pannon se stereotypes khoj khoj kar layi hai, iska pura shrey isiko jaata hai

cultural pradarshani kabhi kabhi pure shahar ko ek showcase samaan bana deti hai, jismein bas sheeshe nahin hain, aur aap khud bhi uska ek hissa hain kyunki aap usse aane wale sandeshon se prabhavit ho sakte hain

Cultural pradarshini aapko cotton ke block print kurton, rangeen patchwork ityadi se lekar organic jam evam tarah tarah ki shilpkari se to acquaint karati hi hai, sath hi sath, agar aap dhyan na dein, to aap iski baaton mein aakar aisa bhot kuch consume kar sakte hain jiske relevance aur itihaas ka ata pata nahin, in fact uska us pradarshini se koi lena dena bhi nahin, jaise ki heritage ke naam pe pizza

cultural pradarshini aapko apne hi shahar mein tourist wala nazariya dharan karwa sakti hai, yeh hui na baat!

cultural pradarshini TV, Radio evam internet dwara bhi aap tak, mujh tak, pahunchti hai, sabse hairatangez karne wali baat to yeh hai ki is pure pradarshini mein hum kabhi ruk kar yeh nahin sochte ki culture kya hai, kya culture kahin kisi samay mein sthir ek imagery hai, jiske kuch pehlu bina soche samjhe hum recreate karte hain, ya culture samay ke saath behti ek organic entity hai, jisko har insaan apne tareeke, apni soch se interpret karey?

(1) Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle

kahaniyan · narratives · people · personal narratives · storytelling

Everything but the room on the roof

Unlike my childhood hero Rusty, I never exactly had the room on the roof, I did however move from room to room.

Some of them are recalled here:

Balcony mein room:

It was the funniest setting ever; basically we were to now live in an extended balcony covered with boards and asbestos, only to freeze in the winters. If it wasn’t for the bread omelette and momos, and of course innumerable cups of chai, I don’t think we would have managed.

The fan rested not too far from our heads and forbade us from standing on the rickety bed. The lizard on the ceiling was not a very welcoming sight, considering the proximity, but in due course of time became our third roommate. She was extremely considerate and managed to stay behind Sai Baba’s huge framed photograph- most of the time.

We had shifted to this room with a sense of urgency; we had been dying to vacate our former pg accommodation where the landlady seemed to have gone to the dark side, well I’ll elaborate some other time.

Through our new room passed the staircase to the terrace, so basically we were residents in the passage to the terrace, which was used only by the landlady and her daughter, who otherwise kept it locked, lest we create havoc on the terrace, the ferocious nature of which (havoc) can only be described by those two, who imagined it in the first place, we would only fantasize about life on the terrace, apart from the view it wouldn’t be much different, we were anyway just as exposed to the elements.

In the initial days I pretended to be Heidi, but for how long can one eat watery daal and pretend that the bathroom does not stink. Soon enough we realized that it was time to vacate, yet again, and moved on to spend a year or so in a flat in ruins. It was at the top of a building which could be leaning, or maybe floating, or maybe…

Khandahar mein room:

We were on the fifth floor, and our much revered balcony would often be flooded with overflowing tankiyan which belonged to our MANY  neighbours-all (tankis) mounted on the top of our flat- they (neighbours) were generous with their motor usage.

As if the ghostly charm of the broken window frames and the cobwebs in kitchen wasn’t enough, our balcony also had a peepal tree. Not those to be dissuaded easily we left no stone unturned in making it our home. For some inexplicable reason we also got a huge letter box, which sheltered air and maybe insects with passage of time. We even cleaned the refrigerator frothing with fungus, and made it usable all over again. Now when I look back at it, I did work hard then. However, things did turn incredulous, and it causes me much discomfort to recall the events in the latter part of our stay- including a heartfelt prayer one fearful night (to Obama’s photograph) to save us from an invisible thief-so I jump across to my next stop, another PG Accommodation. (The tone gets serious from here onward)

Prithvi ki gahraiyon mein room:

“It is the smallest room we have, but then this is the only one with single occupancy”

Even though it seemed only slightly more than an enlarged closet, I paid the rent and moved in.

This was to be my room from now, my own room, an underground hole, with light coming in through a small window at the top. This very window would let the moonlight in when there was a power cut. In either case, I was grateful for its existence in the months to come.

The next day was spent in making the room mine, in adjusting my belongings in the tiny space, decorating it, stamping my existence, my ownership.  Old photographs, posters, test prints of artwork, magazine cut-outs, and souvenirs. After a long but troubled stay in a flat bustling with people, decay and fear, this was the greatest comfort to my tired self.

I had rented a room in a paying guest accommodation, the room had a bed in which I did not completely fit, a table and chair adjacent to the bed, one slim but elongated cupboard, and for some reason, as if to magnify  the room by its reflection, a huge mirror. The room was painted white to further elaborate on the illusion of space, it did not help, but the room did not dampen my spirits, only my clothes, in the rainy season.

I allowed my fatigued nerves to relax, for me to be one with the space, where there would be no intruders, not even the mouse troubling my neighbours, not even the loud music from the room separated merely by a board, this is my space, I would tell myself until sleep would take over my frayed senses.

In the months to come, I found myself thriving in the smallness of the room; it was cosy, warm and personal. I cut my hair short and thanked my stars for the mirror; I even learnt to work on 3d Max software! What else do you want out of life!

It was close to my institute and there was a park right across, the tiff in they gave did not suck, the tea in the evenings was not bad either. So what if at times there was long term water shortage, it was my room, my room under, much under, the roof.

history · image identity · india · kahaniyan · meerut · narratives · people · projects · reflections · society

Meerut Post 2: Meerut Ki kainchiyan! (Scissors)

If you haven’t used a scissor made in Meerut, you have missed out on an excellent cutting experience my friend.

Its only when I moved out of Meerut for my Graduation, that I learnt of Meerut’s Scissors.

I gifted one to a friend who used it for preparing garments, and he was pleasantly surprised with the tool’s efficiency. That made me wonder, how much I took our amazing Kainchis for granted.
In fact my mother had been gifted a large beautiful scissor by her patient, with her name tastefully etched on it, it has been our companion for years. They are the most long lasting scissors ever.

The smoothness of their functioning is literally orgasmic. Trust me, I have been in Design Schools, and have used many scissors, but the ones from Meerut, you can never forget the exhilaration of that perfect sharpness, that deft movement, that sound (khich, khach) which is almost music to my ears.

Just in case, you ain’t aware, Meerut’s Scissors may get Geographical Indication Mark :

To express my gratitude and love for the craftsmen and their wonderful creation, scissors:


kainchiyan meerut ki _poornima sardana
kainchiyan meerut ki _poornima sardana


Kainchiyan meerut Ki_ night_ aise koolness ho gayi_ poornima sardana
Kainchiyan meerut Ki_ night_ aise koolness ho gayi_ poornima sardana


Ok yes, i took some liberty and let aesthetics go for a toss 😉


Shall be posting more on this, pretty soon!


history · meerut · narratives · people · personal narratives · projects · reading culture · society

Meerut: Post 1: Bakri Mohalla

I was born and brought up in Meerut. But to be really honest, I don’t think I ever lived as a part of Meerut, I never tried to connect with my city, never tried to learn of its history or be a part of its future.

I feel that this apathy that many like me live with is also one of the reasons that the place deteriorates and its stories are lost unheard.

I now have decided to slowly begin to listen to those stories, to document them. For what, you ask.

Well, for nostalgia a bit, but more so for reclaiming the space, reclaiming my role in its larger narrative and for others who have lived as disconnected and sans  sense of belonging as I did.

I begin with nostalgia though.

We used to go to study in a tuition centre called Auora Classes. Vinod Sir is one of the most interesting and passionate Physics teachers you would ever come across. Now this centre was in a locality known as the Bakri Mohalla, and the one question I guess each one of us must have joked about, is , Yeh bakriyan buffalos kaise ban gayin? So the place was a hub for buffalos and scooties belonging to students. What I wonder now is why did we never try to find out what got this place its name?

So thats my next agenda.

In the meantime enjoy this quick piece made in the honour of Bakri Mohalla!

Bakri Mohalla: artwork: Poornima Sardana
Bakri Mohalla: artwork: Poornima Sardana

In case you are confused:

Bakri- Goat

Bhains- Buffalo

These are buffalos made here because the colony though named after goats was visually a buffalo haven