By Manan Kapoor
International Museum Day: From heritage packaging museums to those that give an insight into the ‘fire and rescue’ legacy of India-on International Museum Day, Sahapedia and MuseumsofIndia.org look at some offbeat museums in India that turn banal objects into artefacts.
From a museum that has more than 150 cycles to one chronicling the history of packaging and design, India has a fair share of offbeat museums. Over the years, Indian museums have gone beyond the traditional national and state museums that document the history of Indian civilisation, culture and even that of the world, to thematic chroniclers that tell their own stories of social and cultural evolution. No matter how banal these objects from the past might be, they still offer a peek into our history.
While most might be familiar with the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi-which was rated as the one of the weirdest museums in the world by Time magazine in 2014-there are numerous other museums in India that preserve everyday objects one would usually not consider as artefacts.
On International Museum Day, we look at some of the offbeat museums in India that take us through a labyrinth of such peculiar objects. These museums not only change our perception of museums and how we look at history, but also offer insights into personal narratives that have their own nostalgic charm.
Erandwane Fire Museum, Erandwane, Maharashtra
The two-storeyed museum in Erandwane, near Pune in Maharashtra, also known as the Keshavrao Jagtap Museum, lets one peek into the fire and rescue legacy of India. The museum, which derives inspiration from London’s Fire Brigade Museum, houses a famous Rolls Royce fire truck that was used during the 1961 Panshet Dam rescue operations and was in use until 1990. It also has a collection of various items such as ladders, nozzles and helmets worn during the British Raj and other equipment for water spraying.
The Erandwane Fire Museum not only preserves historic equipment, but also the legacies of various firefighters whose suits are on display on the first floor of the building. In an attempt to raise awareness, the museum holds regular workshops and awareness sessions for schoolchildren, demonstrating the firefighting techniques using two active fire brigades.
Address: 5, Shankarao Joshi Rd, Pandurang Colony, Erandwane, Maharashtra
Entry Fee: Free
Hours: 10am-6pm (Sundays closed)
Heritage Packaging Museum, Manjushree, Bengaluru, Karnataka
Established in 2003, the Manjushree Heritage Museum of Packaging and Design is one of the most interesting and fascinating museums in India. The museum chronicles the evolution of packaging in the 20th century and is home to around 2,000 items such as gramophone records of Lata Mangeshkar, a tin case of Cadbury Fry’s Chocolate Cream, a velvet-lined cutlery kit and wood-finish radios. The Heritage Packaging Museum not only sheds light on the evolution of packaging styles, material and technology, but also how the packaging of specific products, such as Coca-Cola, have changed over the years.
Address: Manjushree Technopack Ltd, Unit II, 143, C-5, Bommasandra Industrial Area, Hosur Road – 560 099
Hours: Visitation on appointment only. Contact +91-8071116200 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a private guided tour.
Vikram Pendse Cycle Museum, Pune, Maharashtra
Since the invention of the dandy horse or ‘running machine’ by Karl Drais in 1818, cycles have been constantly evolving and are in use even today. In India, thousands of people commute on bicycles each day. Thus, it might not come as a surprise when one hears about the Vikram Pendse Cycles Museum, which was opened in May 2017 by cycle buddies Vikram Pendse and Pandurang Gaikwad.
Located in Pendse’s bungalow in Pune, the museum houses over 150 cycles-the oldest being the 1914 Sunbeam Cycle from England-cycling equipment, historical spare parts and cycling accessories such as tires, seats, bells, pumps and lamps. Along with cycling ‘artefacts’, the offbeat museum maintained by Pendse and his family also has household items such as typewriters, alcohol bottles, keychains and sewing machines on display that take one on a journey through the yesteryear.
Address: 22, Harsh Bungalow, Lane Number 6, Sahawas Society, Karve Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra
Entry Fee: Rs 100 for individuals above 5 years
Hours: 11am-7pm (Tuesdays closed)
Conflictorium, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
The Conflictorium is an attempt to defy the limits of human memory and serves as a constant reminder of the repercussions of conflict. The participatory museum addresses the theme of conflict and traces the oppressive past of Gujarat from 1960. Established in 2013, it is divided into seven spaces.
While the ‘Conflict Timeline’ showcases the history of conflict in Gujarat, the ‘Empathy Alley’ showcases the post-Independence political figures and lets one listen to famous speeches of these visionaries. The ‘Gallery of Disputes’, on the other hand, designed by graphic designer Mansi Thakkar aims to establish the various kinds of conflicts and their consequences by drawing from a wide range of literary sources, spanning from Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The ‘Power of the New’-a sound installation by Avni Sethi, the curator of Conflictorium-introduces the ‘layered history of the building and locates the audience-participant with the continuum’ and the ‘Moral Compass’ lets the visitors read and touch the Constitution of India. ‘Memory Lab’ allows one to relieve oneself of their innermost thoughts by allowing them to add notes to empty jars in the shelves. Arguably, the most interesting space at the museum is ‘The Sorry Tree’, a peepal tree right outside the Conflictorium, reminds visitors of the power and importance of apology.
Address: Gool Lodge, Opp. R.C. Technical High School, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Entry Fee: Free
Hours: 11 am-8pm (Mondays closed)
Doc’s Locks-Dr Hiren Shah’s Old Locks Collection, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
If the name of this museum gives you the impression that this museum is all about the love of locks, you’d just be skimming the surface. Because for the Shahs, LOCKs is an abbreviation for Lovers of Old Collectables and Knick-knacks and the museum and houses almost everything that has a personal narrative attached to it. The Doc’s Locks Museum in Ahmedabad, managed and run by paediatrician Dr Hiren Shah,who has collected numerous items that one finds in nostalgia shops, is one of the most unique museums in India.
What this museum lacks in formal displays and in-depth historical accounts of its collections, it makes up with the charm of personal accounts. Located inside Dr Shah’s house, the collections range from antique furniture and sculptures to, of course, locks and keys, and even a 250-year-old jharoka (an ornate window frame) that he bought in 200 pieces from a village in south India.
Address: Houseum, 280/15, Satyagrah Chhavani, Satellite Road, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Entry Fee: Free (at least 10 registrations required for a visit and guided tour)
Hours: By appointment only. Contact email@example.com to register
Arna-Jharna: The Desert Museum, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
While one might not look at brooms as anything but an object for cleaning the house, one can’t deny its significance. Still, how many of us realise that there can be numerous types of the humble broom. That is, till you enter Arna-Jharna, the Desert Museum of Rajasthan, which includes a collection of over 100 types of brooms from Rajasthan and elucidates how they are connected to the surrounding biodiversity. The brainchild of leading folklorist and oral historian Komal Kothari, the museum not only offers one an insight into the ecology of the desert through interactive learning, but also illustrates how an abandoned sandstone mine can be turned into an enlightening experience.
Within the museum’s compound, there is also a mine crater that has been converted into a lake, where one can find many migratory birds. Thus, making the museum a popular spot for birdwatchers. What Arna-Jharna does, by virtue of being an open-air museum, is that it breaks the traditional perception of museums being enclosed space. It celebrates the openness of the desert and includes the flora and fauna of the surroundings, reminding visitors that history is present all around us at all times.
Address: Near Arna Jharna Temple, Village Moklawas, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Entry Fee: Indians: Rs 50, foreigners: Rs 150, children below 6 years: free
(With inputs from Aastha Soni)
(Manan Kapoor is writer and copy editor with Saha Sutra at http://www.sahapedia.org, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India, which also runs the project http://www.museumsofindia.org.)