HYDERABAD: Every time I visit a new city, I make it a point to visit the local temples, parks, and museums. Temples give me a sense of the city’s rituals. People dressed in their finest attires providing a peek into the sartorial culture. The food served in temples is the culinary heritage of — recipes handed down through lineages of priests and temple cooks. Parks show me how people relax in their free time. Sadly, all I see is people with their heads bowed down, looking into their phone screens.
But museums are the time machines; reflections of the city as its founders envisaged it. Some of the charm of museums is that they are run by governments. Which results in tiny bubbles of bureaucracy. They usually won’t accept digital payments, and so you’ll have to carry cash — all tiny throwbacks to days gone by. There is the governmental dust and grime in the corners of the halls. The red graffiti due to paan-eaters. The dustbins shaped like monkeys and penguins that are looking earnestly to be used, but being ignored like journalists in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Having visited museums since childhood, I have come to realise that after a point, all museums are more or less the same. They are mostly showing off the wealth of their erstwhile rulers. Their halls are filled with the rulers’ clothes, weapons, and furniture. Paintings where the rulers are looking at you sombrely, as if suspecting you of usurping their empires. The paintings are all painted in ‘portrait mode’, and the blurred backgrounds hide dark secrets and skeletons in ivory cupboards.
And since the age of kings is so far back in history, I find that most visitors to museums only harbour a cursory interest in what’s behind the glass panels. They are all mostly taking pictures or videos on their phones, without bothering to pause for a few moments and pay attention. The only truly curious ones in a museum are the children and the old. The children are blessed with an everlasting curiosity, and the old are enjoying a time without targets and aims. The rest are just zooming by on their smartphones.
There are the museum guides — once a dream job for me — who are rattling off names, dates and figures, competing fiercely with the hydra headed monster Google.
The most disappointing portions of museums are the canteens. Where one is cruelly pulled back into the present – with packaged food and strewn wrappers. But my biggest disappointment with museums is that they only document the lives of erstwhile royalty. But I’m more interested in the lives of common people. What did they eat? What clothes did they wear? We are shown how they hunted animals, but how did they kill boredom? What were the diseases they dealt with, and how did they come up with cures? When I peer through the glass, I want to look at myself in the older times. A man in his mid-30s confused about his purpose on earth. Sadly, museums don’t show us that.
I wonder what our generation will look like in a museum. An entire people hunched down into tiny rectangular screens, looking around for a few moments, and then hunching back into the screens. But then, we are a generation documenting our lives in minute detail. Those who look at us from the future, will also have to hunch down into screens, smile at each other for a few moments, and hunch back into the screens again. Perhaps the last set of historical museums have already been built.
(The writer’s views are his own)