I was asked by the local press to contribute my thoughts on how we can make museums more interesting in India. An edited version of the following appeared in the press today, International Museum Day:
1. I think the first thing to do is to get our museums up to international standards in terms of the upkeep and maintenance of artefacts. A foreign delegation from the museums of that country visited India recently, and I was dismayed to hear from them that not a single museum (not even the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya, the former Prince of Wales museum in Mumbai) in India currently meets these standards.
2. Also in this vein, knowledgeable guides trained to such high standards should take visitors on guided tours at scheduled times of the day on certain days of the week. Around the world, one has volunteers, Friends of the respective Museums, that do this, and their level of interest in the artefacts on display ensures that they are really well-informed about them and able to field questions from the public while they do the tour. This makes the museum experience so much more interactive for the visitor than just passively walking around the display cases and reading the often pithy descriptions on the labels (if that). Some museums have started using audio guides, but it should be taken up by more museums across the country.
3. Events within the museum (book readings, talks relevant to the artefacts, chamber music recitals, plays) bring stuffy, otherwise dull corridors to life.
4. There should be aA sense of reverence and respect for the space. Too often, this gets lost especially in government-run museums, with staff chatting loudly among themselves, with a complete disregard for the visitor, who then feels like an intruder, unwanted, and this mars the experience. It makes a visitor want to cut short their visit and leave.
5. Museums, like so many educational and artistic endeavours, are in ever-increasing danger of succumbing to political correctness, or toeing the incumbent party line, and a muzzling of free thought. All aspects of our history should be celebrated and documented, and there should not be one dominant narrative displacing others just to satisfy the whims of those who happen to be in power at the time. Museums cannot and should not be partisan.