Mumbaiwale: Meet the rock stars
At a tiny corner of the big Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya is an exhibition millions of years in the making. What stories can stones tell us?
It sounds crazy, but my goal is to become a fossil. I yearn for the moment, 200 million years from now, when I’m discovered by future beings, who’ll brush me out of my rocky bed and marvel at what they can infer from my little toe or the shape of my skull. Maybe they’ll give me a cool name, one I never had in my lifetime.
Becoming a fossil, as I discovered this week, is incredibly hard to do. At On The Rocks, a small exhibition about rocks, minerals and fossils at the Curator’s Gallery of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the experts didn’t laugh at my goal. But they did make several scientific arguments that threw my dream into the dust.
To start with, I can’t be buried just about anywhere. “You don’t want to decompose into nothing,” points out Thomasina D’Souza. She’s an intern at the museum’s Natural History section and is one of four mentors to the 20 PG Diploma students in Museology & Conservation who’ve set up the show. She recommends I sandwich myself in sedimentary rock, something like sandstone, that will preserve me better. And that I should try not to die spread-eagled like the Vitruvian Man (even though that would be ideal for study) but, “with all the limbs close to the body so they don’t break off” as the earth changes over millennia.
This is exactly what one wants from an exhibition: a way to make history, academia, and reams of research interesting and relevant for anyone trooping in. The students patiently guide visitors though the exhibits – rock samples, gorgeous geodes, shiny minerals, and actual plant and animal fossils pulled from the museum’s storage and archives. There’s a little petrified crab, the rock impression of a long-extinct coiled creature called an ammonite, the imprint of a prehistoric frog, and a shell now hardened to stone. One fossil, an ancient fish – you can clearly make out its shape – was excavated right here in Worli.
The show is designed to show how the planet has evolved continuously over its 4.5-billion-year life and how rocks, minerals and fossils are connected. And how all it takes is a little time (okay, a lot of time) and pressure (okay, a lot of pressure) to turn a dull lump of nothing into luminous marble or brilliant lapis lazuli, amethyst or diamond. “Visitors have been asking us if the fossils are real,” says D’Souza. “That’s the best part, it’s all real and we understand it well enough to explain it to even a four-year-old.”
The objects in the show are being exhibited for the first time. And it’s hard to believe the show was put together in just two weeks by largely first-timers. “The big challenge was to understand light, cases and display,” says diploma student Anuja Chaulkar. “And budget and time management,” adds Itisha Chudhary. It taught the museology students lessons in how to stretch a budget while also compressing huge quantities of information into an accessible exhibition.
The show represents roughly 30% of the museum’s collection. “My favourite piece is the stick of red Agra sandstone,” says Mehek Pednekar, who is part of the diploma batch. “It’s the same stone that is used for the Red Fort, my favourite monument.”
Give it a few million years, perhaps in another museum, way into the future, another piece of sandstone will go on display and if you look closely you’ll probably find remnants of a columnist from a city that once thrived. Less than 1% of all living things end up fossilised. And only a tiny fraction of those are ever discovered – so wish me luck!
On The Rocks: Rocks. Minerals. Fossils runs until April 10 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort.