Half a day in Salar Jung Museum……

(This I had written late last year, remembered again in the context of the Salar Jung museum, so sharing)

A nice, foggy, cloudy, mildly winter-ish morning, lovely breeze. I had the day to myself, did not really need to do anything. Living in a sun filled land, cloud has always brought me happiness, never gloom, even if the cloudy days continue into weeks. When I worked in Gujarat, we would often order bhajiyas and extra round of tea when the weather turned this kind lovely.

I needed to buy a gift for an Arangetram, (stage solo performance of a 16/17 year old Bharatnatyam dancer to celebrate the many years of learning and is like a graduation ceremony). This is the first one that we will attend. So I asked around “what does one gift?” Silver, silk, idols (Ganesha), flowers I was told. I thought I will go with a book, plus something fun.

Beautiful day to step out, so I went to a nearby book store (The Himalaya, Panjagutta). One of those local ones, fairly big, which has survived the bookstore chains and Amazon and Flipkart. This shop was also selling tickets to a Sufi concert we wanted to attend. I bought the book to gift (I am Malala), was then looking around.

The shop has a section, six small shelves of books that are on 50% discount. The shelves are inaccessible, placed in one corner of the store, I had to ask someone to remove the empty cartons piled around the area. Many of these books are on discount because they are very old copies, or they are not from celebrated/ popular authors, some of these authors have written only one or two books. But as one gets older, reads more books, one understands the dynamics of publishing,  it’s a realization how authors become popular (Chetan Bhagat for example), so I do like looking at this shelf. I don’t mind old and yellowed copies, and I particularly like when authors do not feel they have to write many many many books (for example Harper Lee wrote only one book and that said all that she had to say, To Kill a Mockingbird, what an amazing book! But of course there is one more now which I have not read yet (I have added this sentence today). And Bridges of Madison County certainly did not need a sequel). This is how I had discovered The Folded Earth/ Anuradha Roy few years back. I bought eight books from that shelf.

That done, I still had half a day. I have wanted to go and see the Salar Jung Museum with plenty of time. It’s been a year and a half in Hyderabad, that “with plenty of time” was yet to happen. So I headed that way.

The museum was established in 1951. An Act of the Parliament made it an institution of national importance in 1961. Standing on the banks of Musi (which depicts the pathetic condition of our rivers), you can see the majestic museum building from far. The central block, the original, to which the eastern and the western block was added in 2000. The entry ticket, ten rupees (Rs.150/- for foreign nationals), may be to encourage more people to come. I thought they could easily double that amount.

The ticket itself, to be used like a bookmark, has a little history and basic design of the museum. Quite well planned inside (am not sure if I saw a ramp), with clear signage in three languages, English, hindi and telugu. Elevator and staircase, corridors, the entire building, well maintained and clean all through inside. Plenty of chairs to rest. One food-court in the central block from where the main entrance is offering decent choices of food and beverages at decent prices. There is an option to even sit in an adjacent garden like area and eat. One more snack kind place in the western block. Washrooms and drinking water facility at couple of corners in each floor and each block. They do screen your bags at the entrance, but do not seem to be overly paranoid about frisking or what all is in the bag (as compared with the inox-es and PVRs in Hyderabad malls which do not let you take even a bottle of water, everything one has to buy).

The design of the museum expects you to spend time there. There is food, water, rest, all that one needs during the day.

Fascinating facts, Bidri craft originated in Iraq and Iran, the artisans were invited by a Sultan to India, worked with local artisans and that’s how the craft has grown. Celadon is another kind of ceramic, a shade of green. Porcelain, besides China, there is also Austrian, Dresden, English, Wedgewood, Italian and Sevres. The white clay used in China for porcelain is called Pai Tzu (I do not know why I remember that from all the stuff that I read). There is a Wooden Double Statue in the Western block, I forget which section, kept with a mirror to its back, the front is a man, the back is a woman (well, it could have been kept the other way, the man has to be at the front!), quite well crafted. There also is a pair of bust statues of Abyssinian King and Queen, stood out among all the rest, I did not know they inhabited the Horn of Africa. Several mentions of Marie Antoinette, in paintings and sculptures, perhaps one remembers that name and recognizes the face from history text books. The painting section is small, but a lovely collection. There was one titled‘White Hydrangea’, it was the painting of a nude woman, the Hydrangea plant and flowers were on both sides of the model. I wondered about the choice of title. Looked up the painter and wiki describes, Albert Joseph Moore was an English painter, known for his depictions of languorous female figures set against the luxury and decadence of the classical world.

My favourite sections were, textiles, glassware, Indian silver gallery, the ceramic, porcelain etc. The flora and fauna section and the toys/figurines had some owls. I was pleased to see their existence was recognized. I almost always skip the arms and armours section, in any museum.

One section titled ‘minor arts of south India’ displays wood carving on furniture, absolutely gorgeous, why is it called “minor”?

​​The silver jewellery collection for animals, elephants and horses, big and beautiful! (Silver section mentions Rajasthan, Odisha, Karim Nagar, Kutch, happy I have been to all of them.)

earrings for elephants
earrings for elephants
jewellery for horses
jewellery for horses

Each room has an attendant, who is sitting on a chair. They have no interest whatsoever in what they are guarding. Some of them look after sections which draw more interest, popular and some in the basements, sections that do not perhaps interest anybody at all. I thought of the sales persons in government craft emporiums, no interest, what you sell, why you sell, who you are selling it to, most of them, with few individual exceptions (how can I not think of craft).

There is a clock (Clock as a word was first used in 1566-1625, the French word Cloche meaning bell was used to tell time) at the Central block which strikes at every hour, music plays and a figurine comes out of an enclosure and strikes the gong and then returns back to the enclosure. This attracts the greatest number of visitors. Everyone runs down to sit down and watch this. What was real fun to see in the three odd hours I spent there, was the people, the eagerness to watch this, and the clapping that followed when it was over! One man who seemed like a NRI, I heard him say, “yahan ke liye itna bahat hai (this is a lot for this place)”. Whatever that means???!!!

Just the other day, I was telling a friend, if museums could also engage with the political history of that period and the people. It makes so much more sense to know about that Time and Era in totality.

And I was also thinking, such magnificence, such rich skill, intelligence and craft-person-ship, without the use of plastic and synthetic!

Look at us.

PS: did not carry a notebook, there was a lot more to take notes from.Did not carry a camera either, just the phone.

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