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What did Mumbai museums miss out on

| DYUTI BASU
Published : Sep 28, 2016, 10:33 pm IST
Updated : Sep 28, 2016, 10:33 pm IST

While five museums across the country appeared on the Tripadvisor list of ‘25 best Asian Museums’, none were from Mumbai. Experts in the field tell us why

The interior of the Bhau Daji Laad Museum. (Photo: Shripad Naik)
 The interior of the Bhau Daji Laad Museum. (Photo: Shripad Naik)

While five museums across the country appeared on the Tripadvisor list of ‘25 best Asian Museums’, none were from Mumbai. Experts in the field tell us why

Home to a thriving theatre, music and movie scene, Mumbai is considered one of the country’s major cultural hubs. Galleries, movie halls and event spaces throng every other street and each week sees some new creative project being thought up. Steeped in history, many of the city’s heritage sites have made it to the UNESCO list. It is surprising, therefore, that when a Tripadvisor algorithm created a list of Asia’s top 25 museums, none of Mumbai’s museums were among the ones listed, although some from other Indian cities did find a mention. What’s more, none of India’s museums made it to the worldwide list of top 25 museums at all.

While most of Mumbai’s history buffs are surprised that neither Bhau Daji Lad nor Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya featured in the list, they do agree that the city could do better in terms of its museums. According to Head of the History Department at R. Ruia College, Monisha Mukadam, museums in the city lack in three vital departments—funds, motivation and imagination. “Our museums are really lacking in both community and government support. There needs to be greater interaction with people with special exhibits and installations, which are propagated through the media. This is how most museums abroad function and why most people know about them. Many of these museums are lacking in the funds, imagination and motivation it takes to create a high quality exhibit. For instance, the BEST Museum has a lot of potential but the installations themselves are not arranged in an attractive fashion,” she says.

Avid stamp collector, historian and expert on all things Mumbai, Rajan Jayakar, who curated the High Court Museum in the city, adds that for any of India’s museums to attain an international level of quality, they have to have greater backing by the government as well. “While there is a policy in place for backing museums in India when they are founded, there is not extra monetary support from the government after that, which could help the museum upgrade itself to a world level,” he complains.

“If you walk past room number 16 in the High Court, you will know that there is a museum there. The only other way that you could possibly know about my museum is through word of mouth. This is the case with many museums in the city. The ministry of tourism and culture need to collaborate to popularise these museums, which are also an integral part of the city,” he adds.

On the other hand, Jayakar also points out that the algorithm itself could be at fault when it comes to the calculations. “Bhau Daji Lad, though it is perhaps not as big as some of the other museums, is definitely deserving of the award,” he claims. Former director of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Dr Sadashiv Gorakshkar, who held the post between 1975 and 1992, laments the fact that the museum did not make it to the list. “The museum probably has more outreach programmes and displays of artwork and other installations than most other museums that I know. Take Victoria Museum in Kolkata for instance. It has made it to the list but the exhibits in the museum are mostly static.” The former director also believes that the award should be based on the quality of the displays themselves rather than the views of only one section of visitors. “I cannot tell you how accurate this survey is. I do think that Tripadvisor has missed out on something by not including the Chhatrapati museum, though.”

According to Mukadam, the very basis for the algorithm, which depends on online entries, is redundant in India. “A site like Tripadvisor, while quite likely to get views and reviews online, will only get a fraction of the people who visit Indian museums going and entering information online. After all, how many of us bother to write reviews for Zomato How many visitors even have access to the Internet to start with ” she asks.

Current director of CSMVS, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, however, sheds a completely different light on the matter. “We do not even accept such accolades as a basis for our performance. We have been approached before for awards by Tripadvisor but we refused them since the forum is completely commercial. There is no real basis for these awards,” he says, while speaking about the Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice award. “Our outreach program has created an increase in footfall so that it is almost double of what it was 10 years ago. We have access to people and funds and a great location that many people lack, and we have made full use of them,” he adds confidently.

While the director does concede that there’s room for improvement in Mumbai’s museum scene, his denial of the credibility of the algorithm and award makes one wonder if the city has more to offer than what a list of names can include.