“So what is there worth looking at in the National Museum?” I was asked (very genuinely) by (an equally disinterested) relative of mine.
At that moment, I knew she would not have the patience to have a dialogue on this, I knew this was her attempt at closure to a series of questions she had asked before, “So What do you do?” …”Volunteer?? “….”National Museum???” …”You mean, no pay????”…”Why?????”
So I simply said, everything. But my conscience eats me up, so a longer reflection here:
I love going to the National Museum because I believe there are wonders inside those walls, there are stories that go beyond yet explain this city, this country, this world. Its another universe altogether and I am slowly becoming a part of it, as I become closer to it, I realize that this otherness is only due to barriers in my mind, perhaps it is not separate from any of us in reality, it is a reflection of where we did begin and how we grew, in what ways, what we thought and how it still seeps in.
I believe that there is greatness in every object, sculpture, cloth, painting, book, in every form of expression duly preserved, I know it has a lot to tell. I have faith in being part of not just a tangible but an intangible heritage that belongs to all of us, each and every one of us. Every time I step in, the vastness of this heritage overwhelms me and consequently soothes me with its acceptance of my presence and curiosity.
As the International Council of Museums beautifully describes in its Code of Ethics, museums belong to entire humanity and I have as much ownership and responsibility on me as is the intrigue and fascination. This is not an artsy event, this is duty, this is a very crucial aspect of life, of growth, of making sense of existence, of finding meaning in daily life.Therefore I would willingly want to assist the museum in any which way, in the name of art, stories, culture and history, in the name of humanity!
So what is there worth looking at in the museum then? Who am I to tell you that or to qualify the museum’s collection? The entire museum is an asset for all of us, each and every thing is a gift to look at if only you believe that it is, only then will you realize how it is so, otherwise it would remain a mundane display.
This realization has also been strengthened by the inputs that we have been receiving as part of our training. I earlier used to crib that the museum is not interactive enough, it needs better display, technology and so on, but you know what, more than these gadgets and interfaces, it needs belief in the heart of the person who comes inside, it requires a change in the perception of those who look at a museum from outside and think it is boring. Of course this does not absolve the museum of its duty to reach out, to be friendly, to be open and accessible, however , solely changing the design or introducing a superficial experience will not change a social perception.
This also calls for a questioning of the kind of education we have had, of our great misfortune in having reduced history to rote and forcing students to believe that the text-book knows it all. There is no sense of imagination, no sense of discovery, no excitement in what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our lives, what defines us, what makes us? We only motivate students for science, for future, for technology, where did the thought go, where did the culture, stories, the mythologies go? And as for art, I think if I hear even one more adult say, Oh I don’t understand art, I can’t draw, I will faint! Art is not about conical peaks with a river flowing from under half setting sun for God’s sake! Art is in your way of life. Have a look at the decorative arts gallery or the Arms and Armour gallery, you will find art in everything, be it playing cards or hookah or swords, be it seat or swing or shoes, it does not need to be a different subject or a different department, but this is how our education trains our mind to think, we look at world in a fragmented manner. Lets look beyond school education, why is art not a crucial aspect of our public policy? Why do our Creative Industries exist in a scattered form managed erratically by different Ministries? Why do youngsters not sit in the beautiful space at IGNCA and prefer a mall? Why do people spend a bomb to look at atrocious rendering of Rajasthani art and puppetry but know nothing about the Kathputli colony at Shadipur, Delhi? WHY?
Another relative of mine, calls my weekend time at museum “charity”, I feel it is sacrilege of the sanctity of not just the purpose of my learning at the Museum but also of what philanthropy or altruism is and seeks to do. He immediately placed me next to the trendy elitist volunteers who can be seen at various high profile events and “causes”, brother, this is not charity, this is privilege for me. I am obliged and indebted for the wealth of knowledge I receive. Why do you wish to quantify my wealth? Would you ask someone with a very high income as to what they really learn? No, you never do that, you just ask their income and have a gleam in your eyes, why don’t you ask them what they understand of the consequenses of their actions? what they think and why? You won’t, you won’t feel the need to do so, but WHY?