The complex boasts a museum, a library, an annexe for researchers, a planetarium, a children’s centre and Kushak Mahal

Archaeology aficionados are in for a double treat on July 1. When they arrive at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Auditorium here to listen to veteran archaeologist R.S. Bisht talk about the Lothal and Dholavira excavations, they won’t have to look out of for broken chairs.

Instead, they will be seated in a clean carpeted bright hall with new polyurethane (PU) chairs and fresh wall upholstery. The dingy hall, that has seen several legendary speakers grace its podium, will soon become a memory. The bright hall is part of a series of cost effective renovations at the NMML, under its director Mahesh Rangarajan in coordination with the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).

The most visible facelift is that of Teen Murti Bhawan - the former residence of India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru and the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the South Asia, before him.

One of the five original structures of Lutyens’ Delhi, the 60-room double storey mansion designed by Robert Tor Russel is being restored to the way it looked when it was first occupied in 1930. The 60 acre complex, down South Avenue, contains a Museum on Nehru, a research library, an annexe for researchers, a planetarium, a children’s centre housed in erstwhile imperial barracks and Kushak Mahal – a 14th century hunting lodge of Delhi’s Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq.

It gets its name from the statues of three soldiers — representing the princely States of Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad who contributed troops to the British in the First World War — in front of its gate. The Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, housed in a former residence of Kasturba Gandhi, is also on the campus.

The CPWD has completed the renovation of the ground floor by three simple and inexpensive interventions – clearing the facade, scraping the windows clean and restoring the original mosaic flooring.

The bougainvillea flowerpots that lined the entrance have now been removed. “Old photos don’t have these pots. We found that the seepage from them was ruining the sandstone below,” Dr Rangarajan told The Hindu.

“The windows are of superior Burma Teak. When we started work (September, 2013) they had white paint over them. As we began to remove the paint, we found more than seven layers of green, red and white paint which were totally around three millimetres thick. We removed them and polished the windows,” N.N. Bhramar, Executive Engineer, CPWD, told this paper.

Similarly the mosaic floors had over the years been covered with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tiles and concrete. These too were scraped off and the mosaic polished, thereby restoring the classic stately aura.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have replaced the higher heating incandescent bulbs and Mr. Bhramar plans to only allow illumination by power-saving Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) by the time work is completed.

Mysterious nets for missing mosquitoes

Interestingly, Dr. Rangarajan pointed out, Lutyens’ era buildings are mysteriously free of mosquitoes and flies. This is not the case with newer constructions in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone. CPWD sources suggest that the use of lime in construction maybe a repellent. However, nets were fixed on the windows sometime during the course of history.

These too have been replaced which has resulted in a dignified uncluttered look. Assistant Curator Satish Kumar revealed that the monstrous looking fountains behind the building may be restored to the original lily pond.

The CPWD’s pièce de résistance, however, is the restoration of the ballroom on the first floor. The room was earlier used for exhibitions and its teak flooring was covered with plywood that had developed cracks.

“The flooring is the typical noiseless Lutyens’ era ball room, also found in Hyderabad House. We removed the plywood and nails and polished it to its former glory. You will feel like you are entering a heritage building when work is completed and exhibitions in this room will only be on the wall and not on vertical panels,” Mr. Bhramar added.

Work has slowed down to accommodate the summer rush of visitors, more than 10,000 a day, to the first floor. Further progress also hinges on the budget allocation to the Urban Development Ministry which funds the work on the Bhawan.

The CPWD doesn’t intend to stop here though. “All structures that don’t exist on the original plan will be removed.

This includes the garages and godowns in addition to the temporary structures to accommodate paramilitary forces – who will be relocated,” Mr. Bhramar said.

He added that the layered metalled road would also give way to reinforced cement concrete topped with crushed red brick to replicate the look in old photos. “Our goal was to restore everything to the original. Even the cracks and blemishes that exist look better than the previous ad hoc additions,” he added.

Beyond the cosmetic

The library now has 85 new shelves filled with previously unclassified books. The common room, also used for seminars, in the annexe has been restored and the sky light above it reinforced. Several pieces of dumped rosewood furniture have been refurbished and the canteen has been completely redone with a women’s self help group now running the show.

Although named after Nehru, and home to the three flames one in memory of him, his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv, works on the former PM occupies only a small fraction of the archives. The largest archives of Hindutva ideologues VD Savarkar, MS Golwalkar and SP Mookerjee in addition to the files of the Hindu Mahasabha from 1930 to 1950 are found here.

“The library will also evolve to accommodate computers and coffee mugs. The executive council is also going to identify a consultant to improve the displays in the museum which can draw upon the archives for fresh exhibitions,” Dr. Rangarajan said.

Clarification

I write with reference to the report on the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) to clarify two issues in the quotation at the end of the article (Pheroze L. Vincent, The Hindu, 22 June 2014, page 2).

Three small clarifications in an otherwise well researched piece.

The idea of allowing coffee mugs does not refer to the existing library. The reference was to the possibility of new study rooms where coffee can go with laptops or tablets( but not any library books). This is yet to be fully examined and will in no way involve food or drink in any existing library rooms.

Second, the selection of a design consultant for the Museum will be under a fair, transparent and open process. The Executive Council will make a selection at the end of such a process.

Lastly, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, a private trust has an office but it is not on our campus but on a nearby different property on Teen Murti Marg. The NMML is a distinct entity and is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

-- Dr Mahesh Rangarajan, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

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