‘It was just the perfect date. Museum and then dinner’ is probably something that is almost never heard in India, absolutely no thanks to its toxic museum culture which thinks museums are only for school kids’ excursions.
The feeling of being at one with history, with that ancientness, is something that I get only when I am at a museum and it’s a feeling that I absolutely cherish. It’s that feeling which draws me back again and again to museums, some which I have already been to countless times. But whenever I call my friends to accompany me on these ‘dips’ into history, I get the standard template response of ‘Who goes to museums except students on excursions?’ betraying the deep-set outlook of India on museums. And that outlook is toxic.
The Louvre – the famous and overhyped (according to some anyway) museum at Paris is one of the reasons that makes me so badly wanna go to Paris. Of course, the cuisine is just delectable and even the streets make you lose yourself in their aesthetics, but those are secondary. The Louvre, that’s the first and foremost reason that I need to go to Paris. And don’t think of me as a weirdo, but that is how most people, at least outside India, feel about it. The Louvre is one of the most visited museums in the world and this is a testament to the above statement. The French, both the government and people, treat the Louvre the way it should be treated – like a gem, something in a million, a national, no…universal treasure. And this is not only for the Louvre. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – popularly the Met – is another such gem which has been cherished by the people of New York. The general public loves these museums so much that they have gone to painstaking lengths to adorn the museums, take for instance the lovely pyramid constructed near the entrance of Louvre – if you ask me, that’s what love is. And the adulation of the people to these treasure troves of artifacts is also exhibited by the position that museums occupy in popular culture. Many books and movies chose to be associated with museums – notably the Louvre in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci’s Code, Wonder Woman, The Bourne Identity and many more while the Met has been featured in the classic The Thomas Crown Affair, Ocean’s 8, When Harry Met Sally, Hitch and plenty. And this stands as a tall testimonial to the museum culture in Europe and America – one of appreciating, cherishing and celebrating museums for what they are.
Coming to India, the museum culture – if it can even be called that – is appalling. Museums are treated with apathy and even worse, disdain. When I think about it, I literally feel physically nauseated – that’s the museum culture here. For all the history, heritage and culture that India parades to be the haven of, its museums are pathetic and people’s response to these are even more so. With museums reeking of neglect and desolation, it is a heart-rending state of affairs. Considering museums in India, even the big ones in metropolises like National Museum in Delhi, National Museum of Modern Art, Indian Museum are seriously understaffed and lack modern infrastructure. Most museums are a collection of artifacts with dusty old description boards functioning as a one-man show in dilapidated and decrepit buildings. Forget about pyramids, there is not even proper lighting in many museums. And this is nothing to be surprised of, if you ask me – in fact, it is what is expected when India has never given enough funds to art and culture (always less than 1%), no matter which party forms the government (What am I talking about, even healthcare doesn’t get a nice slice of the pie here).
And the public attitude towards museums isn’t helping anyone either. In Paris, the City of Love, many people choose to go to the Louvre or Tussauds for a date rather than the Eiffel Tower. And in India, when given a choice, most people wouldn’t even bother considering museums. It is a necessity – museums have to be visited during school trips. And this is where India’s museum culture falters – when India chooses to not go to museums. When given a free hand, families don’t go to museum as some of the elders are illiterate and others aren’t patient enough to read the plaques (To be honest, I was left behind by my family at a museum when I was engrossed in reading the information and they weren’t) and youngsters don’t go to museums with their friends as it is not ‘cool’. Thus, museums have turned into run-down haunts for academics and the occasional school trips.
It is, at least, little heartening to know that the government has acknowledged the pitiful conditions of museums in India and the public’s lukewarm response to the same. Even as far as 2009, the Union Ministry of Culture had released a 14-point agenda for the reform of museums, in a bid to better their conditions and ‘acceptance’ by the public. Sadly, like most other policies, it remained confined to paper with little on-ground reforms to represent it. This is evident by the 2011 UNESCO report that shed light on the sorry state of museums in India, with even top museums suffering from negligence. And another study by the British Council in 2014 showed the same, highlighting the need for trained professionals to be staffed at museums – in a country where humanities is still considered as only for the academically less ‘gifted’. Despite acknowledging the problem, there is little to no development of museums in almost a decade. But it is heartening to see that many private individuals and companies have taken it upon themselves to change the way museums are viewed – by changing how museums look. They are contributing both monetarily and otherwise to make the museums more ‘inviting’.
In a hope that both governmental and non-governmental efforts succeed and museums like the Met and Louvre crop up in India as well with a progressive and celebratory museum culture, I conclude this article, looking for Louvre.
- Five Offbeat Museums to Explore in Delhi
Featured Image Credits: Wikipedia
Harish Neela Lingam