Living in a fast-paced city means that we’re too caught up in the everyday, and often forget to tap into our cultural past. And at the cost of sounding like a complete townie, South Bombay holds a large portion of the city’s history, both physically and metaphorically, which we walk right by. A huge portion of that antiquity resides at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), which has seen a rise in visitors after its modernisation programme.
As part of their outreach project in 2013, the museum, along with the Ministry of Culture and Citibank’s CSR project, came up with the concept of a Museum on Wheels, literally translating to a bus with exhibits for children. The travelling exhibit is inbuilt with tactile replicas, demonstrative kits, art supplies, interactive multi-touch tablets and audio-visual presentations that are also supported by educational activities outside of the bus.
Since it was launched in 2015, the Museum on Wheels has had two shows, one on the Harappan civilisation, and the ongoing exhibit titled ‘ The Big Indian Toy Story ’, which explores traditional Indian toys that have evolved over time to highlight the significance of art, history, lore, traditions, values and leisure. The museum on the move has toured through the suburbs of Mumbai, as well as Thane, Navi Mumbai, Nasik and the Ratnagiri district. “We wanted there to be a focus on bringing the museum to people who live in more remote parts of the city and find it difficult to travel. The idea is that if you can’t come to the museum, the museum will come to you,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general at the CSMVS.
The exhibits are designed in such a way that they facilitate community involvement, which is also contextual to school syllabuses. “We’re linking the past to the present to make an experience more relevant to instil learning,” says Debasis Ghosh, head of communications at Citibank.
During the Harappan run of the project, kids were exposed to the technologies and skill of the Harappans, one of the most advanced ancient civilisations. In the form of pottery workshops, brick casting, lost-wax casting, clay modelling and seal making, children were encouraged to get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in the experience. “Learning is based on three very inherent sensory perceptions: to see, to hear, and to touch. But making a subject tactile is what really makes the experience lasting,” says Bilwa Kulkarni, assistant curator at CSMVS’s education wing.
Speaking of tactile importance, during the museum’s visit to the Helen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deafblind and the Rochiram Thadani School for Hearing Handicapped, children learned through mental simulations of the exhibits in front of them, along with sign language picked up by the education facilitators. The concept thrives on the fact that museums are not just spaces to look at and walk along, but to make discoveries with an impact.
“In museums, you often see signs saying ‘please don’t touch’, but here our motto lies in ‘please touch’. How can you have an exhibit of toys without actually playing with them?” says Kulkarni. Apart from channapatna , kawad and pattachitra toys, local to Karnataka, Rajasthan and Odisha respectively, the bus also has catapults and ‘ saap-sidi ’ to teach children good versus evil. “We’re also customising our very own life-sized ‘ saap-sidi ’, with things like polishing shoes getting you up the ladder, and not doing homework leading you down the snake. Not many of our kids know that snakes and ladders originated in India to tackle the concept of karma,” Kulkarni adds.
The exhibits also try to break gender stereotypes by encouraging both boys and girls to play with the inbuilt doll-house and toy cars. “While the boys shun the dolls, it’s the girls who are up for playing with everything that’s around them,” says Ajay Salunkhe, an education facilitator at CSMVS. But that’s not the only barrier they’re trying to overcome. Another exists between how the rural and city kids understand the same topic areas. “Since city kids are more exposed to basic concepts like what a metal is or what a comic strip is, it’s easier to explain how the Harappans made objects out of copper and iron or how the pattachitra uses the same format as a comic strip,” says Salunkhe.
So the CSMVS team tweak their explanations to suit their audience. For example, rural children are first taught concepts using real-life examples, such as rotis are cooked on tavas made of iron, which is a metal, and city kids are encouraged to play with toys other than tablets and phones. “The city children need to also be taught basic mythology and traditional lores like the panchatantra that they aren’t exposed to,” says Kulkarni.
For schools in locations far away from the CSMVS, such as Thane, the Museum on Wheels comes as a refreshing change from regular field trips in the area. Since the bus is available during school hours, students and staff both are introduced to a new system of education that isn’t rote-driven. “Even though we had organised the visit for primary class students during recess, the senior children were surrounding the bus to take a peek inside. Projects like these are all about building curiosity, which it’s managed to do,” says Gladys Cabral, vice-principal of Smt. Sulochanadevi Singhania School, Thane.
Salunkhe also stresses on the fact that we often pass by the Byculla zoo and ignore the Bhau Daji Lad museum, or live under the impression that a job at the museum is not too different from being an antique seller at Chor Bazaar. “Why do people still think of a museum only as a building full of antiquities? Is that its only role?” he asks. There’s a prejudice that exists that museums hold information for only the people who are interested in historic facts or age-old traditions. “The bus is a break into a modern thought process, one that will hopefully change the dynamics of hands-on education,” he says.
Over time, Mukherjee is also open to the idea of opening up the museum for adult exhibitions. With a moving bus packed with experiences at your doorstep, the average citizen can no more use the city’s traffic as an excuse for not getting out of their homes and rediscover heritage.
The author is a freelance writer.
For more on theMuseum on Wheels, see the education section at www.csmvs.in