Museums – Souls of the city

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Ever since my shifting to Hyderabad, I have developed a rather dispassionate attitude to look at my new home town in a very non-complicated and matter of fact kind of approach to understand it in its entirety. One is able to compare notes on cities and their development and look at some key issues of urban growth in academic as well as in practical ways.

One of the few very important and prominent observations that I find and feel concerned about is lack of sufficient recreational opportunities and facilities for the citizens. Apart from the famous Tank Bund, the Necklace Road and the Botanical Gardens, virtually there are no other large public places for the people of this city to congregate. Large swanky malls are becoming the alternative, more for entertainment and less for self learning and growth. The city administration and the urban society at large have become ignorant to the importance of such amenities. Absence of recreational and educational public spaces has an impact on the lives of the people and it influences the quality of city life and image of the city itself.

Our cities with rich historical, cultural and architectural heritage, does not match up to the expectations of a worlds class city in terms of what it provides for entertainment and information. Important cities world over provide basic amenities and opportunities in the form of museums, public plazas, performing arts centres, simple, effective and visitor friendly transportation system, and above all ever enthusiastic city administration always determined to improve and add new features to attract and welcome the visitors. Residents of such cities feel proud of its resources and heritage and take initiatives in its protection, preservations and improvement. Unfortunately we cannot say the same about our cities even though we have all the prerequisites of making our city truly of international standard.

Of the many important constituents of city infrastructure, its museums and places of arts and cultural interaction are key to cities cultural and recreational needs. Hyderabad is proud of having the Salarjung Museum as a jewel in the crown and city has added Chowmohalla Palace to its list of important touristic destinations. The other known and important museums are the Birla Science Museum and the State Archaeology Museum. Most of these came into existence mostly due to efforts of few families and private trusts. In my opinion most of the museums fail to attract and sustain the interest and attention of people for want of innovative programming, creative display and attractive information sharing. They also lack in their efforts to make museums more people friendly and participative in its outlook to make it a place of public gathering and enjoyment.

Most of the Museums in our country are treated and administered like large [and sometimes air conditioned] store rooms. What is once displayed, stays there for life. Once you have visited the museum, there are no reasons for you to go there again except when you accompany your visiting cousins there. We not being a museum going society, we treat museums like defence forts [of course not to undermine the security of the contents of museum] and create a public perception that one should visit them only when it is most necessary. The display system is of pre-colonial era with dark coloured wooden panels or otherwise badly painted in plastic emulsion colours. There no places where you would like to hang around, because you are expected to leave the once you have seen ‘the thing’. Museums in their ambience and architecture do not inspire the visitor to enjoy and absorb the contents of it. In their very authoritative and imposing behaviour museums only intimidate the visitors and leave no scope for making the whole experience an enjoyable and memorable one. Some of the basic facilities like the drinking water and the toilets are best not talked about. The small outsourced and contracted shack just outside the museum building is the last desired but much needed cafeteria. Did you hear of a reference library somewhere within? And in name of souvenir shop- an old teak table counter with few publications? And the last but of most important [to the administration of course] the entry ticket! It is anybody’s guess the experience one has at the gates.

I would like to compare this scenario with any small museum in a small European town, because for us the Louvre in Paris and or the Metropolitan Museum in New York appear to be the next generation thing as far museum design and operation is concerned. Each of these cities have not one or two but multiple museums which have huge amounts of city’s historic or present wealth and information on display. Surprisingly many of these small to large museums are established by relatively small public or private trusts.


I always wondered if only we had a visionary city administration, how rich we could make the experience of being in our city by just showcasing our valuable assets. I will dare to list some them, which I feel deserve not only recognition but also patronage from both the Government and the society alike. The museums as institutions and places of public interest can play an important role in the development of collective intellect of the society. Andhra Pradesh being home to varied dance forms both classical and folk, a museum of performing arts can showcase Kuchipudi and Andhranatyam from the classical front. Folk traditions of storytelling like Burra Katha, Hari Katha, Thappetagullu, Chakka Bhajanalu, Pagati Veshalu, Yakshganam can be documented and publicised through this exclusive museum. The Museum of Architecture can play an important role in generating debate over the various models of development and architecture along with taking an initiative in preserving and protecting the heritage buildings of our region. Museums of tribal culture, of traditional fabric and weaving like ikkat, Mangalgiri, Uppada, Gadwall, Pochampalli, Narayanpet; of Coastal and Marine ecology, of Deccan History, of Tollywood, of Classical Music where veterans like Ghantsala, and Bala Muralikrishna have done huge honours to the state, of rocks of Hyderabad- the unique and rare to find urban landscape feature, of Buddhism and Buddhist heritage and learning and of course the famous Sudhakar’s Car museum (pic below) are just few examples which can create a rich and enriching experience. A museum of IT is another one which deserves a credible place in the Museum Circuit of the city.

World over museums have been focal points of attraction and learning for both the visitors and the residents alike. Fact that since 1977 each year, every 18th day of May, is celebrated as World Museum Day only highlights the importance the museum have in a city life. This recognition is special since Museums are the only institutes or organisations which have been accorded this unique distinction. We still have not come across days celebrating airports or hospital buildings. These museums, apart from doing a doyen service of protecting and promoting respective fields for eternity and for the future generation, will become an important tool for the promotion of tourism and ultimately in securing the pride of the citizens.

A joint initiative of citizens and the administration, is needed to bring all these ideas into reality. Even with the existing ones, need to improve the image and accessibility of the museums is imperative. The city transport authority can take an initiative in starting a museum exclusive services for the benefit of the enthusiasts. All such institutions can be brought under a single umbrella of “Friends of Museum” with a uniform accessibility and admission code and ticket. This will facilitate in more organised dissemination of information and provide comfortable planning for visiting more places within a short duration of time. Many likeminded organisations and public enterprise can provide the required visibility and connectivity in their websites for simple acts of purchasing tickets to museums and special programmes and performances that may be organised.

The museum administration needs to broaden its vision and terms of engagement with the society. The museum premises need to become places of hanging around probably with free Wi Fi lounges and coffee shops or libraries which the young ones of the city would like to frequent. They need to reorganise their display inventories and not show everything at the same time. Museum display should be in tune with the times and be contemporary and simple in term design, legibility and understanding rather than make it look more of place for the next PhD thesis. Museums need to create opportunities where in people would like to visit the same place again and again, thus not only serving the educational and recreational need of the society, but also help these very museums earn more revenue by increasing the visits per citizen. Other public utility organisations like the railways, the airports and the RTC have to come forward with some ground breaking and friendly marketing approaches to attract the travellers passing through these centres of transport.

This will be no small task. But then this is a big idea of small initiatives that has the potential changing the very attitude of the citizens towards their own city. It has the hope of better utilisation of public spaces, it has the promise of bringing back the sense of belonging. Only if we can make our museums the tools of understanding once own city, surrounding and oneself, it has the optimism of making its people worthy of their citizenship. If only we can promise ourselves of sincere and honest efforts, the movement of museum can bring about an enthusiasm and sense of togetherness amongst its people. The city belongs to the people and museum are a way of giving back to them what they deserve, and I for sure believe, citizens will come forward to nourish and nurture it, develop it, care for it and of course love it.

(Srinivas Murthy is an architect, based in Hyderabad) 

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