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Albert's Hopeless Hall in Jaipur

September 20, 2019 21:27 IST

'The entire display is a lesson in how to turn a mountain of a collection into a molehill, notes Anjuli Bhargava after a visit to the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur.

IMAGE: The Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur. Photograph: Kind courtesy Anupamg/Wikimedia Commons

Since Jaipur and its literary and other festivals are the flavour of the season, I have a question for the chief minister of the state and his deputy: When they were being sworn in the other day at the Albert Hall Museum in the heart of Jaipur, did they actually open their eyes and take a look around?

Over the years, I have visited a fair number of museums in India, something most people I know don't do.

But never have I had a feeling of such hopelessness as I did at Rajasthan's oldest museum, also the state museum.

 

Let me begin by stating the positives of the Albert Hall Museum.

Architecturally, the museum is a delight.

Designed by Samuel Swinton Jacob and opened to the public in 1887, the structure is an appealing combination of Indo-Islamic elements with the highly decorative neo-gothic style one sees in many European cities.

The structure is attractive even to birds, as the thousands of pigeons found hovering on its arches and domes testify.

Rudyard Kipling had once described it as a 'rebuke to all other museums in India from Calcutta downwards'.

The museum has a colossal and magnificent collection of objects: Metal art, miniatures, a varied pottery collection spanning many regions including some rare Turkish red pottery, period furniture and garments, jewellery, musical instruments, ivory, coins, among others.

The international art collection is nothing short of thrilling, the kind that makes you want to be a Vincenzo Peruggia (he stole the Mona Lisa once).

A highlight of the museum is the Egyptian section, which has a mummy. The museum also has some nice mahogany and teak cabinets that house some of the objects.

That's where the positives end.

As soon as you enter the first room, it has the feel of a government-run institution.

Display is lackadaisical and indifferent.

Signages look like pages torn out of government files and leave you none the wiser.

Lighting takes away from objects rather than highlight them.

In fact I am quite unable to understand this Indian affinity for these depressing white tube lights -- the kind we grew up with in the 70s and 80s and that inhabit most classrooms and government offices.

Cabinets and glass tops are dusty with glass shields that look as if they could do with some frenzied scrubbing.

The steps -- quite grand -- that take you up to the first floor are paan-stained.

I can go on and on section by section, but let me say this in short: The entire display is a lesson in how to turn a mountain of a collection into a molehill.

Only one element impressed me: There's a netting to prevent the whole place from becoming a pigeon dropping infested site with all the accompanying hazards.

Now, which bright spark thought of that?

Pat yourself on the back on behalf of the aam aadmi.

The human element is equally dispiriting.

All the staff and guards on the property look bedraggled and tired, as if dragging themselves out of bed that morning was an ordeal.

In the Egyptian room, it was hard to tell if the guard was alive, so slumped was he in his chair next to the enclosed supine mummy.

I spoke to him to ensure he was.

The room -- one level below ground -- is dark and dingy and children were running amuck -- encouraged by their parents -- to "spot the mummy".

On returning, I did some digging into why things were in such a sad state.

After all, the former chief minister Vasundhara Raje had done wonders with the Jawahar Kala Kendra that was apparently in a fairly decrepit state till she transformed it.

It can be done.

I learnt to my dismay that the state museum -- under the aegis of the director of the department of archaeology and museums of Rajasthan -- underwent an facelift not too long ago in 2007-2008.

The site was closed for 15 months and reopened after refurbishing.

It's after this we find ourselves where we are today.

I'll end here with two suggestions.

Let those in charge of Albert Hall take a short trip to the private Gyan Museum in the city's Sitapura Industrial Area.

Second, in line with today's virtual living, let visitors skip the physical museum and enjoy the Web site.

It's many shades better than the real avatar, albeit without the pigeons.

Anjuli Bhargava
Source: source
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