A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1- The Partition Museum

A Rejuvenated Amritsar Part 1-                      The Partition Museum

Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple as it is known worldwide, The Akal Takht, Jallianwala Bagh and Attari – Wagah border are the regular attractions in a 1N2D itinerary of Amritsar. Now, all that is set to change and a rejuvenated Amritsar is inviting you to stay a little longer and explore.

Amritsar is part of the Indian state of Punjab and just before the local government elections held in December 2016, the state authorities threw open the Heritage Street, starting from The Town Hall up to The Golden Temple. Though it didn’t prove to be sufficient for the incumbent party to return to power, the Heritage street has enough in it to bring in more tourists as it has breathed a new life to this stretch, which i last heard was chaotic and disorganized.

The Town Hall is a 140 year old Heritage Building and until recently housed the local civic body. One if its newest residents is “The Partition Museum”, set up by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust , a not for Profit NGO.

Town Hall entrance and Partition Museum entrance
The 140 Year old Town Hall of Amritsar and the Partition museum located within its precincts

Seventy years have passed since the traumatic events of partition that lead to the birth of two nations; but until “The Partition Museum” was conceived, there was no memorial, no designated space and no commemoration of any kind to document the migration that led to the creation of the two countries of India and Pakistan.

The Partition museum is dedicated to victims of the event, its survivors and, lasting legacy. Apart from original Newspaper clippings, the museum has reproduced moving images by Margaret Bourke White, the legendary photographer and documentary film maker of LIFE magazine. Bourke white went about her assignment in an unfazed manner, unmindful of the chaos of a newly divided subcontinent. The images are part of her work, Halfway to Freedom.

Margaret Bourke white, a Life Photographer in a White spree and Lee Etington, edit reporter
LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White (L) w. LIFE edit reporter Lee Eitingon, posing in beautiful Hindu saris. Courtesy of TIME archive and Getty Images

April 5th 1947 was Lord Mountbatten’s last ditch attempt to persuade Mohammed Ali Jinnah for a united India, citing the difficulty of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establsihing a separate Muslim State. With the British Government having granted in principal approval to grant independence quickly, things moved quickly leading to August 14/15, 1947.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a talented barrister who had no knowledge of India and had never been to India before, was tasked to head the Boundary commissions of Punjab and Bengal, which would draw the line across these provinces along religious lines. In two months, little must he have imagined that this drawing of borders would lead to Twenty million people migrating to a new homeland in one of the greatest and most painful upheavals of contemporary History.

Lord Mountbatten and Sir cyril Radcliffe
Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India and Sir Cyril Radcliffe a Barrister at Law. The architects of India’s partition

The Partition Museum captures these gripping and unfortunate moments in a section with the aid of newspaper clippings and a recounting in chaste Punjabi by Kuldip Nayar of his interview with Cyril Radcliffe in the year 1971. Radcliffe is believed to have told that Pakistan is lucky to have got Lahore; Pakistan was understood to have been upset over losing Gurdaspur.

Also reproduced is the poem by WH Auden titled “Partition” which sums up Cyril Radcliffe’s pressures and state of mind.

Generous patrons have donated preserved letters that were exchanged with their friends and loved ones after the borders were drawn up, letters to authorities on either side enquiring about their properties and holdings and many more gut wrenching communication. Amritsar and Lahore are just 30 kilometers away but for those torn by the events, the line in-between must have made it feel like a few light years away.

The museum is adding more sections by the day and in 12 – 18 months time hopes to complete them and add a wealth of information to one of India’s darkest chapters of History.

The Partition museum is also creating a digital platform by documenting oral histories of partition survivors and their families.

Spend a good 3 hours in the museum and expose yourself to this bit of history which changed the fortunes of this sub-continent.

Getting to Amritsar – Amritsar is served by an International airport that has direct flight connections from New Delhi and Mumbai. Currently Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways, Spicejet and Vistara service Amritsar. Plenty of trains ply between New Delhi and Amritsar and it takes between 6 to 7 hours for the 465 kilometer journey. One can even drive on the NH 44 in order to reach Amritsar.

Where to Stay – Amritsar is home to International chains like Westin, Holiday Inn etc., and Indian chain hotels like Taj whose newest property Taj Swarna has kicked off its operations. Finding a hotel to suit your budget is never a problem. Offbeat Farm stays have also picked up and give you an even more authentic experience.

Margaret Bourke White and Lee Eitington Image Courtesy – Time Magazine Archives/Getty Images

Facts concerning the Partition Courtesy – The Partition Museum

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Re-imagining our Museums

Re-imagining our Museums

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

To help us realize the above statement, we have two wonderful assets in the form of the National Museum in New Delhi and the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Formerly The Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai. It was heartening to visit the flagship museums of our country. Yes, things are getting better with plenty of opportunities for innovation.

Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum
Clockwise from top Foyer of Mumbai museum, walkway to the Mumbai Museum and the Delhi National Museum

The teams at both the museums have started engaging visitors by including audio guides, brochures, guide books, audio visual shows and other theme based events like the International day Yoga. The counter staff are knowledgable about the exhibit areas,  conduct themselves very professionally and regularly seek suggestions from the visitors.

  • Both the museums begin their tours with an introduction to civilizations of the world. Busy charts, maps and a few artifacts crowd out entire floors. How relevant is it to showcase a bathing area, ritual pots and pans without an accompanying audio visual show talking about how people lived in those days? Digital enhances the visitor experience. The same can be made available through a museum website for people outside of these cities to get a virtual walk through
  • Our governments still own our museums; This strength should be used to rope in more Thematic content like the one organized during International Yoga day for example. With India’s excellent diplomatic relations with UN Member countries, a bi monthly showcase with one such country can help our fellow country men know the country and its people a lot better. This can be a physical exhibition plus a digital feature as well. How about a Japan month to start with? The Museum of Tribal arts and artifacts in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa is a brilliant theme based exhibition of Orissa’s Tribal roots. The staff in the museum are extremely knowledgable about their own and explain their culture with a truck load of passion

 

The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!
The Bhubaneshwar, Orissa museum of Tribal Arts and Artifacts, A must visit!
  • There are sections within museums which deserve to be re-imagined. The coinage gallery in the National museum for example. Who in current times will get excited with a dour exhibit which does not have any interactivity. How about a small game helping visitors understand how coinage has evolved in India
The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors
The Coinage gallery which one just breezes past for lack of interactivity. Cluttered Museum floor impeding smooth movement of Visitors
  • The stone and Bronze sculpture galleries detail the art across various empires of India . It will be wonderful to see some of India’s stolen and recovered sculptures being showcased. An interactive digital gallery which explains making of sculptures and explaining the significance of symbols can excite the visitor to delve deeper in to our country’s rich past
The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes
The Stone and Bronze sculpture sections in both the Museums across various epochs. Vishnu, Ganesh, Kuber, Durga and Buddha are common themes
  • Both the museums take pride in the collections of their paintings, especially the miniatures and European art collection in Mumbai. I don’t understand western art. How can we help the average visitor understand and appreciate art? Can the website or a Kiosk help enhance the experience and get the visitor to better appreciate art? We have numerous art schools and am sure many of them would love to hand a summer project to their students in this area
  • The Mumbai museum has a well curated Textile section which i think is a real crowd puller. Similarly there is a lot to be explored across
    • Agricultural history and evolution of Irrigation in India
    • Maritime Trade history of India
    • India’s forces and a light and sound show – Army, Navy and Air Force
    • India’s space history and accomplishments
    • Indian Railways – Engine of growth for the country
    • Wars fought by India and where we were involved like the II world war
    • Using global visual archives to help the visitor understand India’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts across the world
    • India’s victories to keep its borders secure
A textile map of India, Prints of various states of India, Child dresses, Parsee Saree
The Textile Heritage of India showcased within the precincts of the Mumbai Museum
  • The Mumbai Museum has actively engaged children and adults with small craft workshops, making ones own pre-historic tile and printing on paper and cloth. This is a good beginning
  • Both the Museums have in-museum stores and have stocked up on a good collection of take aways that are reasonably priced and of good quality. Key chains with miniatures, Coffee table books, pen holders, bags and other interesting gifting ideas

At the same time, important to be mindful of the facilities  like being disable friendly, providing ample sitting areas, restrooms at every level, water fountains and cafes. Without these it is a bit cruel to expect the Old, children and the infirm to visit our Museum.

Safety is another aspect of our Museums which have made news for all the wrong reasons. A fire or a deluge can wipe out decades of painstaking curation efforts. It can be heart wrenching to lose precious artifacts. Digitizing them offers an option apart from mandatory safety mechanisms.

Museums tell stories and we and our children have and will grow up with stories, isn’t it?