All that the National Museum of Natural History needs is a heavy dose of energy

I would be surprised to meet anyone who hasn’t made a customary trip to this museum in his/her childhood. Out of all the museums we have in the city, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) housed in the FICCI building on Tansen Marg remains one of the few must-visit museums. One of the few museums that caters to children, it becomes an attractive destination for some parents. A lot of kids go there for their school project — making it all the more relevant to families. When the young girl at the reception, one of the very few staff members visible in the gallery halls, sees me with a notepad, she politely parts with the information that a set of five booklets available at the entrance will help me in the school project so I don’t need to toil.

And she was right. A museum guide, booklets on eco-friendly living, ecology, and snakes, are what I got on my way out, though not without asking for it.

It is a spacious museum spread across three galleries on three floors. But before you get there, you see two things that have come to be so strongly associated with it — a life-size model of an Allosauraus dinosaur in the lawns of the museum, and ‘Mohan’ the one-horned Indian rhinoceros. The first gallery belongs to the evolution of earth. An ammonite fossil with a caption ‘Would you want to touch me?’ beckons the visitor. The museum was established in 1978 under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, six years after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi returned from the Stockholm Conference on human environment and decided to have a space dedicated to the rich natural heritage of the country.

The effort to be in sync with today’s times is visible in how it integrates technology to address a child who wouldn’t be patient enough to go through lengthy texts. So there are touch screens, AVs and other interactive elements to make it exciting, but one still feels there is something amiss.

I wonder if friendly staff, museum guides standing at crucial exhibits and sections would make a difference. There has to be a way of engaging youngsters, and it is surely a challenge. There were several children in the museum the day I visited it and I really applaud the parents who braved the heat to bring them there, but nothing could hold their attention. They were running helter-skelter with hapless parents in tow. In their cacophony the audios were not audible to anyone at all.

Ecosystems, plants and animal life are explained at length with the aid of videos on invertebrates, underwater life, starfish, diversity of lizards. The space is not lacking in content, just in life.

The second floor has the gallery dedicated to Nature’s network — ecology. The space has infrastructural challenges I discover, like almost ineffective AC, non-working lifts, no ramps for differently abled people and chipped staircases. The building badly and urgently needs a revamp.

Mythological stories through animation, a peek into the manmade crisis, water cycle, food web, different regions, forests and lands make up the third floor gallery hall. It puts a thrust on conservation with dioramas showing the Bishnoi tradition of nature conservation, the Chipko movement and exhibits on alternate sources of energy, the Ganga Action Plan, etc.

(There is no entry fee. The musuem is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)