Perfecting the past
TELLING A STORY Museology is not only about recreating history, it is relating the past to the present through exhibits and artefacts in an interesting manner
For a student of history making it to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the symbol of Indian history and architecture, to set up a museum, is a dream come true. Little did 29- year- old Pankaj Protim Bordoloi, a native of Assam’s Jorhat District, who came to Delhi to pursue his graduation in history and later completed his masters in museology from the National Museum Institute of the History of Art, Conservation and Museology (NMI), know that his love for history would one day give him an opportunity to set up a museum in the presidential house.
Bordoloi, currently an education officer at Rashtrapati Bhavan, i s responsible f or almost every aspect of setting up a world-class museum at the Presidential residence – from planning a museum to acquisition, curation, design, documentation, research, exhibit development etc. He works under the supervision of the museum advisor and is assisted by a team of researchers.
The first phase of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum is complete. It captures the modern history of India through the lens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. When work started, Bordoloi had to figure out interesting themes that were not on display anywhere else and that could attract more visitors.
Citing an example, he says, “I found the draft of the oath taken by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on August 15, 1947, in the National Archives. Since the Indian constitution did not exist then, I found the draft of the oath in a letter written by the Indian National Congress leader and later president of India Rajendra Prasad to Lord Mountbatten,” he says.
The new museum houses all the presents and souvenirs received by various Presidents and other collectibles. An audiovisual presentation will showcase the history of Rashtrapati Bhavan from the time of the Viceroys. “Elements of virtual reality will also be included to engage people who visit the museum in such a way that the tour turns out to be a real learning experience,” he says
Bordoloi was working as the deputy curator of Sanskriti Museum, New Delhi, before applying for the position at Rashtrapati Bhavan . He was selected from among 70-odd candidates after giving a written exam and two interviews.
“I had come to know that the National Museum was looking for assistant curators and that Rashtrapati Bhavan too had some openings as it was planning to set up a new museum. I appeared for interviews at both the places and cleared them. Finally, I accepted Rashtrapati Bhavan’s offer as it seemed like a greater opportunity as there was a new museum to be set up. It could give me a chance to implement all that I had studied in college,” says Bordoloi.
Theconcepts of museology are changing, he says. “It is fascinating to see the kind of museums that exist today. Canada has a museum dedicated to human rights, an abstract concept. In India too, Bhopal has a museum on the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy, which is again based on a contemporary event. Not far from Delhi, in Gurgaon, we have a museum that is dedicated to the idea of transportation, yet another concept not related to traditional museums. Due to changes in the concept and presentation of museums in India and abroad, museologists today have to deal with new ideas. That’s why creativity and understanding of the subject is important,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges that museologists face today is to link history to the present day context and make it interesting for people to relate to it. “To be able to do well as a museologist, you need to understand history and also what is happening around you. Picking up issues from the past and making them relevant in the present day context is the only way you can help common people connect with historical artifacts. This is an important aspect of a museologist’s job,” he says.