Delhi: lost & found
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Delhi: lost & found

An ambitious exhibition aims to chronicle Delhi in its entirety. It's also the first step towards a city museum. Is it up to the mark? Amitava Sanyal writes.

art and culture Updated: Nov 19, 2010 22:07 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times

Delhi is like no other capital in the world. There's archaeological proof that parts of it have been lived in for at least 6,000 years. In the last 1,000 years it's witnessed continuous building, some of it in an imperial scale. It's got an impressive variety of flora and fauna. There are songs and foods typical to the city. Yet, bafflingly, our capital doesn't feature among the 220 'World Heritage cities' listed by Unesco.

"It's a vacuum of our imagination," says A G Krishna Menon, urban planner and convenor of the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), an NGO.

Since 1998, Menon has been at the forefront of the process of earning the tag. Now comes 'Delhi, A Living Heritage' — a Rs 1-crore exhibition put together by Intach and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). Through 150 printed panels, six interactive kiosks, five scale models and seven three-dimensional models, the show provides a sweeping view of the capital's tangible and intangible heritage.

It's not just meant for moving ahead the case for the heritage status; it's also meant to "form the core of a city museum" whose idea is being seeded, says Menon.

Chief minister Sheila Dikshit is seized of the idea.

She says, "I want an 'active' museum, with events, changing artefacts... We have seen some places and maybe the abandoned premises of the Delhi Industrial Corporation behind the old Secretariat can be used for it."

Jyotindra Jain, member-secretary of IGNCA and one who's credited for making the Crafts Museum one of the most attractive ones in the city, says: "A Delhi museum would need a huge space — including some for storage — and 7-10 years to plan and build."

For now, does the current exhibition live up to the mandate? Even after you ignore the spelling errors, the lifeless human models, and unfriendly jargon on some of the kiosks, there are some serious questions to answer.

Sohail Hashmi, a writer of Delhi's old and new histories who'd rather be called "a potterer among ruins", points out to the first panel.

It implicitly claims the Mahabharata as historical text and tries to link the diggings at Humayun's Dinpanah to Indraprastha.

"I've seen the archaeological work in the 1960s... There's nothing that historically proves the link," says Hashmi.

Swapna Liddle, co-convenor of Intach who wrote the text, agrees but says the text isn't biased.

The diorama on qawwals makes them wear black achkans and hands them a sitar — both off the mark, says Hashmi.

The information on street food fed into a kiosk leaves one high and dry. Liddle herself rues the lack of any film clips or sounds of the city. The best parts include a section on music on the intangible heritage kiosk, panels on landscaping, education and early settlements, and the view of our changing natural heritage.

The Delhi museum maybe some way off. But the heritage bid maybe submitted by the end of 2010. Among various things, it requires a "sense of history" among the city's denizens.

This show could be a good starting point.

First Published: Nov 19, 2010 22:02 IST