Museum, to most of us, means the National Museum, but there are others in Delhi that are similarly interesting. Unfortunately, it’s largely foreigners and tourists you’ll see inside at these, poring over musty artefacts inside glass cases. We present our own museum trail that takes in four of these within easy driving distance of each other that you might want to explore:
Start at the National Gandhi Museum on Ring Road, as I did. This is where they’ve ‘fixed’ Gandhi. It’s tacky, but cute especially the ‘replicas’ of Hridaykunj, Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati, and a six feet cement reproduction of Nandalal Basu’s famous linocut of the Mahatma on the march. Look out for the sari Bapu and Ba gifted to Indira Gandhi by way of blessings on her wedding to Feroze Gandhi on the first floor among the gallery exhibits.
Tackier, and not at all cute is the Dolls Museum round the corner on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg. Here are thousands of dolls from all corners of the world, in all manner of traditional costumes — from the dancing dolls of Tamil Nadu to minuscule Japanese ones in semi-precious stones and the brilliantly gowned flamenco-dancer dolls from Brazil. Hidden where it’s least likely to catch anyone’s eye is the oldest specimen — a reclining doll made in Switzerland in 1781.
The National Children’s Museum inside the Bal Bhavan Complex across the road is a bit of a hotch-potch. The architecture’s great — a ring of red brick buildings around a patch of green — but it’s not much of a ‘museum’ and not quite ‘national’, except for the miniature models of scenes out of Indian mythology and history, the Ramayana, Shakuntala, Vivekananda, the freedom struggle, independence and the Bangladesh war, which might instill a suitably nationalistic spirit in our children. There’s also an entire gallery called Surya, explicating the wonders of the sun to little children presumably, but it is so dark inside that you may have to feel your way around.
Drive down next to the Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan — a revelation in every way. There’s the ‘village complex’ laid out by artist Sankho Chaudhuri in the 70s, showcasing our very own homegrown architecture which includes a Toda Hut from Tamil Nadu and a Konyak Morung men’s hut from Nagaland. But it’s the exhibition complex which will surprise with the beauty and profusion of handicrafts and handlooms from all over the country.
Divided into galleries dedicated to the courtly, cultic and tribal crafts, and textiles, it’s a testimony not just to the variety of crafts in India, but to how closely most of them are entwined with the lives of the people. Look out for the Bhuta sculptures — a peak into a magnificent but little-known tradition of the Tulus of south Karnataka. With detailed maps and captions giving the history of the crafts, its geographical location, its techniques and other details, there’s plenty here to look at and think over.