'Museums are Binoculars to History’ and ‘History is the Compass to the Future’ | International Museum Day

    On 18th of May which marks the International Museum Day when I was going through my albums it struck me how much my visits to museums impacted me. Quite a few find museums boring, a necessary trip from school. Others see museums as ‘Binoculars to History’ and believe that ‘History is the Compass to the Future’. Museums just don't preserve our heritage, they preserve the knowledge, the understanding, the social structures that succeeded and failed and allow us to interpret our current circumstances so that we can take better decisions and carve a better future. There have been societies and cultures that have reached great zeniths but have collapsed because the knowledge was not preserved and was lost when the few who had it passed away. When we enter a museum, if we stop looking at exhibits as just objects and start visualising the life that happened around it, you will feel like you have entered a time machine. My experience in the National Museum in Delhi was that as you go from room to room in a museum you will be transported to different times. It is true that ‘History is Written by Winners’ and it can be warped perspective, but museums allow us to see history beyond the perspective of the winners if we see the exhibits and try understanding them in the context of their times. It is very interesting to see how people lived in the past because you get to know about their challenges and how they overcame that and how these experiences evolved into their cultures. Old religious places and old buildings are also museums in a way because of the carvings and architecture . We have recorded history of the past in those carvings because what the carved depicted either their lives or their beliefs. The architecture is also so beautiful and I can’t even imagine how they built and carved all those beautiful structures without even being close to the technology we have today.

    Apart from time travel you can do virtual travel too. There are museums depicting different cultures, places and countries. I have read about the National Museum of American History in Washington DC where when you walk into a wing, say that of Japan you feel like you walked into a Japanese home or of the country that is being depicted. I also read about the space museum at Sriharikota which is the launching pad of India’s space missions where they have even installed weighing machines that show what your weight would be on different planets. There are also private museums dedicated to very important social subjects like Native American History dedicated to the people wiped from the pages of history. Similarly museums dedicated to Holocaust depict the pain humans can inflict on each other when misled by narrow pride. I do hope to visit these museums sometime. However Salarjung Museum located in my home city of Hyderabad is itself one of the best museums and is the largest collection of articrafts collected by a single person enables me to see some of the very best from across the globe. It is not possible for us to travel to every country in the world but the museums enable us to see every corner of earth and with some museums every planet in our solar system.

    Though time travelling through museums is my favourite, all museums are not about the past or different cultures.. There are Art Museums, Science Museums, Nature Museums and many many more. One of my favourites are Important People’s Houses have also been turned into Museums. Rabindranath Tagore's House and Vivekananda's House in Kolkata beautifully depict the social systems of their times and how they played a role in transforming them. Jawaharlal Nehru's house in Delhi is a mirror to the final days of freedom struggle and the first days of an independent India. Delhi’s Science Museum is my favourite as the unique exhibits explain what would have been complicated concepts in a very simple way to understand touch and feel exhibits. One of my favourite exhibits was the hot cold handle. They wrapped two rods around a handle and one was very hot and one was very cold! So whenever you touched it you didn’t know whether you were feeling hot or cold! I attended two summer workshops there and will always remember them for how much fun they made science for me. I am happy that even during pandemic they are organising online workshops and competitions that I am able to attend. I hope that the museums that are being demolished for the Central Vista project will be given enough time to carefully secure the invaluable exhibits they house and be reopened safely in their new locations. Personally I think that it is a very risky task and that the museums should have been left alone as centuries of history is at risk. 

    My most recent museum visit was to an Army Museum in Kashmir about mountain expeditions in the Himalayas. This museum was a depiction of human determination, teamwork and how each expedition learnt from previous expeditions to enable them to conquer the highest ranges of the world. Sometimes Museums too don't tell the entire story. Most museums don't focus on the workers who built the things and focus only on the kings who ordered them to be built. In the Mountain Climbing museum there was a mention of the hundred workers who carried the supplies for the teams that conquered these peaks. 

    The interest created by museums has enthused me to look for the social story around every object. This led me to start collecting stamps and coins. They are really interesting ways to find out about different countries. Since stamps and coins depict important people, events and places, there was so much I could learn from them. 

    Hope you too will have fun seeing through the binoculars of history and therefore have a compass to what you can expect in the future. Do enroll in online workshops with museums or visit online museums to keep exploring during the pandemic. Happy time traveling. 


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