CHENNAI: When was the last time you stepped into a museum? We are not talking about the ‘must-see’ museum goals that your travel guide took you and your fellow travellers to, whilst out on that European holiday. Do you remember your last visit to a museum in our country? Well, don’t we all cradle memories of field trips in school buses to these institutions?
Though initially masquerading as a gift from Heaven and a distraction from regular school hours, it doesn’t take long to realise that you have been actually put through the ultimate test of how best to stifle yawns without being caught out. With silence being a prerequisite in these no-talking zones, it’s hard to have conversations about growing disenchantment with friends, in an effort to stay awake.
As if that is not enough, an assignment to pen down one’s observations in 200 words would surely follow once back, almost like an attempt to engrave that memory forever. Are such experiences from childhood what deter us from undertaking any such museum tours once the cloak of adulthood wraps us in its clutches? Or perhaps it is the drearily dull conditions that prevail within these spaces that do not allow us to list this visit as an option even on a boring Sunday?
This is indeed a sad state of affairs for a country like India, one of the oldest civilisations, and with a wealth of art to proudly showcase to the world. Schools offer no understanding of art history, with art being reduced to lessons in colouring pretty pictures with crayons that slowly evolve into paints. World-class museums housing our national treasures could have compensated for this neglect of art education, by instilling pride in the cultural icons that walked our land. After all, don’t we have periodic reminders of our political legends, in the form of statues that stand tall on every street, proclaiming their worth? Then surely it is not impossible to treat our art too with the respect it deserves by investing in truly magnificent foundations to rest on!
Private museums may have taken it upon themselves to salvage the situation by creating exceptional infrastructure to exhibit their collections, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi is one such. However, with our country’s precious art and artifacts that date back to antiquity being in the possession of the government, the duty to not just safeguard them, but to turn them into sparkling attractions for the world to witness, lies on the shoulders of our policymakers.
Let us bring our cultural heritage out of ignored spaces. Forget the pre-planned trips to the Guggenheims and the Met Museums of the world. Let us build our Louvres. May holiday bucket lists be filled with such destinations. Let our children look forward with delight to the customary school excursion to the one place which can hold the promise of a million discoveries for their tender hearts — the museum in all its glory!