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Alice in a new city museum


Our city is woefully inadequate when it comes to the number of museums it can “brag” about. Lack of funding, vision or intention? Until this shocking figure is corrected, we cannot call ourselves a cultural metropolis

Aaditya Thackeray. File Picture

Fiona FernandezWhile perusing architect and urban columnist Robert Stephens’ seminal and groundbreaking book, Bombay Imagined, this columnist often found herself falling down a fantasy rabbit hole; it’s the kind of imaginary, utopian streetscape that only true blues and (often crazy) Bombaywallahs are likely to view from time to time when the opportunity (or in this case, a book) presents itself for a teleported distraction.

I found myself in this particular area towards the last segment of the book, where plans of unimaginable waterfronts, futuristic running passages, and wharf redevelopment plans were presented in visual detail for the reader. Ideas of what if and almost there left us feeling nostalgic most of the time. I’ve been down this route many times as I’ve been digging into the epic and visually appealing research project.

Call it a coincidence, but it was a few days after getting my hands on this book that I attended the launch of Mumbai – A City Through Objects: 101 Stories edited by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Director and Administrator of Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. The event was also held to inaugurate the 150th year of the museum’s opening.

At the session, the book was released by Aaditya Thackeray, the state’s tourism minister who is also Mumbai’s custodian minister. It was held in the presence of the city’s top bureaucrats, cultural ambassadors, urban planners and architects, and it was among them that he enthusiastically shared news of plans to expand the idea of ​​the museum. of the city with the opening of another building. The collective applause that followed was quite something. Later, the idea was reiterated and supported by biggies in the city bureaucracy. It made people like us smile; this small community of observers who have carefully followed the cultural ups and downs of the city for decades. I was tempted to have another rabbit hole moment. Well, almost. You will understand why I stopped before going there.

The spirit returned to a participant in Stephens’ book that caught my eye in a flash. This was a 2014 plan by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) and Sameep Pandora and Associates for the City Museum’s north wing extension in the same space, near Rani Baug. This plan in the words of ZHA, and as reproduced in the book, explains the idea as follows: “The formal response is soft, ductile, less rigid than its historical counterpart.” The sweeping design selected from an original list of 104 entries would have breathed fresh air by offering a range of possibilities and introductions to enhance the experience and influence of the city’s oldest museum. We followed this design competition closely at the time. The plan was never allowed to take off due to a host of unfortunate developments; the idea stayed in the “imagined” space and thus ended up in Stephen’s curated compilation of world-class ideas that were never adopted by the city.

And so, the skeptic in me didn’t allow the smile to expand into a smile amid the applause. And it’s not just this plan. After reading and reporting countless examples of almost there and almost done projects in the city, I found myself in no man’s land with this important announcement. Honestly, I’d be the happiest if I turned out to be wrong. The month of June was revealed during the forum where all heads would come together to get the ball rolling. We will follow closely how it goes.

To say the city needs more museums is like saying we need more local trains or better roads. Mumbai can’t even compare to London, or even its Asian counterparts like Singapore and Dubai. Ours is a richer, more illustrious, and older historical timeline, if the city’s origins are recorded. So, compared to these two Asian cities, the number of museums we have is a shame.

Regardless of how, when, and how capable this new expansion of the city museum is, we would certainly like to see more than just this project receive the impetus and support. Asia’s wealthiest municipal corporation can and should consider various alternative avenues to fundraise, so that we can become a true force to be reckoned with; a city that can boast of having more museums, especially in specialist areas that will do justice to its multi-layered histories and multicultural identities. At the top of our list, we so desperately need a space to salute our textile traditions and our milling histories, our rich maritime and shipbuilding heritage needs to be documented, as well as our diverse communities who have come here from all corners of India and the world. to settle down and settle down.

It is hoped that the June meeting will lead to its logical conclusion in due course, in the form of another city museum, and not become another pipe dream as long as the Tulsi Pipeline. And yes, let’s hope our powers identify and commission many more such projects with serious commitment.

After all, a museum is an essential and balanced institution that showcases our stories and histories. And heaven knows this city has so much to tell.

Midday editor Fiona Fernandez savors the sights, sounds, smells and stones of the city… wherever ink and envy take her. She tweets @bombayana
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