In April 2016, a blaze swept through the National Museum of Natural History in Delhi, much-loved stuffed dinosaurs, tigers, giant lizards and geological specimens were reduced to dust. It is still to re-emerge from the rubble. On Tuesday, Delhi got another museum that displays a variety of unique rocks, trees, and soil specimens. The capital’s Museum of Geographical Heritage will have maps and atlases from the last century, and it will acquaint its visitors with survey equipments from pre-Independence times.
The NMNH belonged to an era when the state largely decided which cultural artefact had to be displayed, and how. It was envisaged at a time when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was taking the first steps towards environmental protection by a government in independent India. She envisioned the museum as an instrument of “promoting environmental awareness” — though it was inaugurated by the Janata Party government six years after it was mooted. The Museum of Geographical Heritage, in contrast, is the brainchild of two geography teachers of Delhi University, R B Singh and Tejbir Singh. The collection in the museum, from several parts of the world, is the labour of love of the two teachers.
For all its rich history and diversity of lived experiences, geology and environment, India has very few museums that invite and engage the visitor. The experience offered across most of the country’s 800-odd museums is seldom more than gazing at static arrangements of artefacts. The Museum of Geographical Heritage is among recent initiatives that promise to expand the scope of the museum beyond a repository. Like the Living and Learning Centre in Kutch and the Partition Museum in Amritsar, it is the work of new-age curators who envisage museums as interactive spaces.