Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Once, at this museum in Delhi…


When news of a midnight fire destroying Delhi’s National Museum of Natural History broke, and images of the building’s façade black with soot went viral, I was struck with a strange sense of loss. Strange it seemed, for neither did I grow up in Delhi for my childhood memories to feature trips to this museum, nor was it among the popular places I frequented as a student of Delhi University for five years, and later as a journalist. Why was I sad then? What was it that made me lament the mishap as if the loss of a museum is a personal loss? Was it because it made me remember a visit to another museum, once…

The National Museum, New Delhi, was the first museum my son saw, one afternoon in the month of April. He had just turned two. My husband and I had strapped him in the car and converted an otherwise lazy afternoon into one where we were ‘doing things’ with our bubba. I had teased him for his nine years in Kolkata, which that day proved him a Bengali-parent-type by taking a tot to teach in a museum before the said tot’s molars were out! He in turn had smiled and ventured with conviction how much fun it’ll be. Come on! So I packed a WW III survival kit with finger foods, juice, hat, spare shorts, mosquito repellent cream, wet wipes, water and his favourite book. I knew I would be sitting reading to him in a cool corner, as his father fulfilled his own childhood fantasies, not having got enough of those while growing up with his face shoved inside a museum window in museum land! 

And guess what? The book wasn’t needed at all! 

The feet which climbed the few stairs at the entrance went thappad-thappad, excited just to be climbing. But the steps matured into slower taps once inside. Suddenly, the roof was soooo high, the huge room had more than the usual four walls (one, two, three, four, FIVE, SIX…) and the shiny corridor leading us in was lined with rows of statues. Hello! Are you stone?

Suddenly, there was so much to see! Further and further in and up and up towards the sky. 

The moment we entered the grand building, my son entered his own grander world of imagination seldom disturbed with facts or need to eat or pee. Curious. Quiet. Contained. With his head turning angles to really, poperly see. With his toes taking his weight so inside exhibits he could do peep-peep. With ‘what’s that and that and that?’ the only question, whispered so as not to hear his unnerving echo, and with an enthu-father ready at his service with simplified answers. Enjoying the company of his thoughts he walked. Enjoying his ‘serious’ side we followed like followers. 

He had to see everything, right till the tiniest of artifacts which never before had seen so much attention. And we saw everything too through his eyes, as we looked at him seeing and describing everything in his limited vocabulary but with limitless joy. It is a joy I fondly remember when I think of it. I look at these to remember it…




























Those who are remembering their visits to the National Museum of Natural History probably have memories of the place to turn back to in their most boring, idle, happy or lonely times. But no more do they have the same place. A lot of history has been lost in this fire, of course. Objects of immense value, which preserved within them a lifetime of stories, reduced to ashes. And then comes a question...   

When places vanish into clouds of smoke or wars of time, what happens to our personal histories; individual histories created as we live? Isn't it good to believe that even though places of note may be no more, or change faces like our hometowns, or be named anew on a whim, our memories of them cannot be taken from us? They are ours to own, like undocumented, dormant, sometimes silenced but always intimate thoughts which make precious home in our hearts and minds. Those bits which remain inside us till we remain, like unwound movie reels, sometimes forever, and other times flowing before our mind’s eyes in high speed. Triggered into limelight. Woken into remembrance. 

Just like this morning, when I watched one museum burn, I stepped into a different one. That was the first museum my son saw…

15 comments:

  1. That was a real tragedy! The burning of the Natural History Museum.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That would be a sorry sight.
    But luckily, your blog never is.
    Have a good day :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wonderful, moving piece Sakshi! I thrive on your photography- they are so darn evocative girl....lovely, lovely, lovely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So happy to read your comment, and to receive the love you gave this post elsewhere. Thanks a lot, Kay!

      Delete
  4. I studied in a school very very close to this place but I have never visited it. As a child, Mom never allowed going out with friends. And then I had thought of visiting it with the girls. But it never happened. Really sad about the kind of resources that got burned. So much history and science...Sigh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All the more reason to step up your visits to the other museums. :)
      Thanks for reading, Rekha.

      Delete
  5. Lovely post. And the pictures! Maybe I should follow the footsteps of Chhotay and go have a look, too. It's been a while as old as a very long while since I visited that place last

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    Replies
    1. Go have a look, Badhey! Chotey can be your guide if you want to take him along. :D
      Many thanks for liking this!

      Delete
  6. Been there once and yeah it felt like a personal loss. But then so did the Bamyan Buddhas and an old uprooted tree in my Colony.

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    Replies
    1. Beautifully put!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  7. A fab post. It really irks me when such richness and legacy are not preserved. It's our wealth valued ten times more than any Mallya or Modi, I mean Lalit!! Your Bubba is having so much fun and can imagine his eyes twinkling with stars at such magnificence.

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  8. Admin, if not okay please remove!

    Our facebook group “selfless” is spending this month spreading awareness on prostate cancer & research with a custom t-shirt design. Purchase proceeds will go to cancer.org, as listed on the shirt and shirt design.

    www.teespring.com/prostate-cancer-research

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete

  9. Admin, if not okay please remove!

    Our facebook group “selfless” is spending this month spreading awareness on prostate cancer & research with a custom t-shirt design. Purchase proceeds will go to cancer.org, as listed on the shirt and shirt design.

    www.teespring.com/prostate-cancer-research

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete

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