“Madam are you from Japan?”

“Madam are you from Japan?”

For a moment I thought he was kidding me, but unfortunately he wasn’t!

Just because I had stepped out of the airport with a friend from Manipur and distinct features, I was perceived to be Japanese by the auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi. I am not from Japan, my ancestors are not from Japan, and I do not have the physique or features that  people use as a lame excuse for nurturing  a simplistic perception of anyone from the North Eastern States of India, with least awareness of the plurality of people . I look Punjabi and even am Punjabi, this was the most incredulous comment ever, and I am still overwhelmed by the sheer ignorance that persists!

I told him I am not, that my friend though from Manipur, lives in Delhi and asked him to drop me in a residential area of Delhi, indicating that I have been to Delhi before and am not the tourist he assumes I am. But this guy was truly persistent. He tried to take me via longer route, he told me how Delhi is a great place, and then to exasperate me further, he actually pointed at India Gate and told me how it is a must watch tourist destination.

When we reached towards my destination and I guided him on the turns, he assumed it is thanks to my mobile phone and maps, and finally before leaving told me how he came this far just because I could have been cheated by other driver folks in the city.

I think somewhere the gentleman mentioned gave me the beginning of an answer to a  question another had asked around 6 months ago, “Why do we need museums?”

Buddy, you need museum to go to the anthropological section and begin to understand that the North Eastern States of India are not Japan, to start being aware, to nurture empathy, not ignorance.

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Museum Studies 3- Sangrahalaya se parichaya

“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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sangrahalya se parichaya: An introduction to Museums and Museum Studies Part 2

A quick documentation of thought bubbles erupting in the auto-rickshaw:

There is a need for change in our museums, yes, but not in seclusion. Change cannot be isolated, change has to be systemic, because things are connected in a complex interdependent fashion that naked eye does not see, but perhaps experience would teach us gradually.

Let us take a hypothetical example, though much borrowed from what surrounds in actuality, context being, a nationalised or state run museum in urban India.

You know what is worrisome? No, not the crumbling sofas, no not the lack of vitality, what is worrisome is the attitude of people towards an overarching system, a system which though created by people, has been allowed to attain such a demonic stature that it devours on any attempt at a squeaky change. Whether this change is introducing a new activity or using a different hall for meeting, there are procedures, and papers, and permissions, there is a massive loss of time and energy, and eventually interest.

But let me not get into babuism and administration issues, there is something that is even worse:

Consider this, the existence of a single narrative. Who has written the history of my nation? By the way, what did i just mean by saying “My” “Nation”? Whose perception of mainstream history is being followed? why can the subaltern not contest the big fat mainstream belief? can the museums be a space for that? will they allow questioning? of course not! the system won’t allow that!

So there is a certain narrative which incidentally is very much identical to school text books, which has been followed and will be followed until eternity. It might be spoken of with such confidence and certainty that you may not realize that you could very well look beyond that, choose not to believe it as the ultimate truth, and that is what worries me. A system where different modes of narration, be it education, media, spaces, where they are accustomed to a single tale, that system demands change from its various nodes, and not just one.

It seems almost impossible to think of any experimentation when the system in an institution is rigid. Power can also be beautiful, it can be creative, it can be empowering, but when it gets rigid, then it becomes a weakness.

I wish I could describe this better, but when in a museum people, researchers seem a little stiff, seem submissive, seem grateful at every step, it makes me wonder if there needs be more space for them to express freely, to be joyous, to be excited.

Wow, I managed to turn this into a rambling + sermon, I deserve a pat on the back.

Shall write more soon, on museums, too much learning, too much in head, too little time to document!!!

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

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 : http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-01-17/lucknow/36393076_1_geographical-indication-scissors-gi-certification

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!

 

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