It will take long for things to be a perfect but National Museum is getting its act together

Things held out promise as I glanced through the email confirming my guided tour programme to the National Museum on February 25, 2014. Just a day earlier, I had booked online for the programme, launched by Union Minister of Culture Chandresh Kumari Katoch in April, 2013. One of the several means to reach out to the public, the cultural institution — which has managed to function in an isolated manner so far — Volunteer Guide Programme (VGP) has been devised to enable people to appreciate the treasures of the museum. A first time visitor to the museum gets a brief description of the galleries and objects on display in 90 minutes.

For the 2:30 p.m. tour, I reached 15 minutes in advance and waited at the spot where the visitors are supposed to gather for the guided tour. That day, the tour was to start at 3 p.m. because some Ministry officials had placed a request to join it. I was informed of it only when I enquired at the reception. A group of five-six young students too was there but the students were wiser because they didn’t choose to wait, bought a Rs.10 ticket instead and left. I waited because I believed that the tour would take place. During the wait, the only thing I derived solace was from the large groups of people, although mostly foreigners, visiting the premier institution for preservation and conservation of the country’s art and cultural heritage. At 3 again, I enquired at the reception counter and was told to wait for some more time. At 3:10, I decided to go around on my own. The tour, according to me didn’t happen but Anita Sachdeva, the tour guide claims, she did conduct the tour at 2:30. How on earth could I have missed a group of six-seven people led by a tour guide right in front of me, continues to puzzle me.

But one thing without doubt is that there exist several loopholes in the programmes our cultural institutions mount amidst such fanfare and sustenance is the biggest of them all. Did the guide announce the start of the tour? She didn’t. Did the person at the reception counter give me correct information? No, he didn’t. In all likelihood, he didn’t have the information himself.

Disappointed, I was angry too, but once inside, I forgot about the bitter start. The National Museum truly is a treasure trove of heritage. From Harappan to Maurya to Gupta terracotta and early medieval art to Buddhist art to miniature to coins to decorative arts, gallery after gallery, one is just mesmerized.

Mrs. Ramesh, a retired banker-turned- tour-guide, who met me on my subsequent visit to the museum while researching for her tours, said Harappan and Mauryan galleries are her favourite galleries. I couldn’t agree with her less.

The dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro, a dark bronze statue, we all grow up seeing in our history books, is all of 10 cms but the 4500 year-old beckoned me every time I visited the gallery. While she is the star for me, you may discover your favourites. At Maurya gallery, I realised why stone sculptures of that period remain unparallel works in stone. Though I was following the ‘Museum in 90 minutes’ booklet, I often strayed to look at other pieces. ‘Woman in grief’ (Sarnath, U.P. 2nd Century B.C.) is another masterpiece. In late medieval art gallery, the recently acquired 1100 year-old Yogini sculpture in stone (It was stolen from a temple in U.P and returned to India after years) sits pretty.

But I forgot to tell the tour guide about my favourites — Buddhist art, miniatures and decorative arts too to an extent. I love the fact how I marvel every time I find a Buddhist monk walking barefoot in the gallery or meditating near the sacred relics of Buddha, displayed in a beautiful case in the gallery. Recently revamped Decorative Arts — I and Tanjore and Mysore galleries also have much to offer but the latter was closed the day I went owing to the preparations for their blockbuster show “The Body in Indian Art” which is coming straight from Europalia Festival in Brussels.

But before that, I would like to attend a guided tour programme by Mrs. Ramesh and listen to many little known stories — like the one she related to me about Gupta coins.

THUMBS UP — The concept of Museum in 90 minutes and a well-stocked museum shop housing lot of innovative items like mouse pads, trendy watches bearing traditional motifs and stunning jewellery.

SUGGESTION Since every phone has camera in it, why only those who carry a camera or an iPad/tablet like me, pay Rs.20 extra for taking pictures?