A showcase for Bombay

Published: Jul 15, 2019, 06:03 IST | Fiona Fernandez

The city ought to have a permanent exhibition that captures its birth, evolution, its people and places, but most importantly, its unique multi-layered cultural fabric

A showcase for Bombay
Metcalfe Hall in Kolkata

Fiona FernandezOkay, so it's rare for me to admit these things on a public platform but there are times when you simply have to put it out there for the greater cause. And, it's not fun when it means having to laud another city for trumping Bombay with the execution of a fantastic idea.

Recently, as we went on an online browsing spree after having negotiated an editing avalanche, we spotted a post by a friend, an academic and scholar on the Jewish community in Kolkata [though she prefers to still refer to it as "Cal" or "Calcutta"]. It was about a permanent exhibition at the restored Metcalfe Hall, once the Calcutta Public Library that became the Imperial Library. As we studied the show reel of images that she had posted, we did a virtual slow clap. Having lived and worked in that city for nearly three years in the past, the visuals made for a kaleidoscopic trail of its sights and sounds, and gave us a fair idea of the displays and installations. The permanent exhibition titled Ami Kolkata is a collaboration between the Government of India (Ministry of Culture) and the Archaeological Survey of India. Research by INTACH Kolkata and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata ensured the content was top-class while the engaging design told many a story to someone sitting in far-off Bombay. There were sections and panels that applauded every aspect of the city – from performing arts and literature to its festivals and fairs, its icons (the yellow ambassadors), its diverse communities and its iconic built heritage.

Exhibits at the permanent exhibition there. Pics/Courtesy Jael Silliman
Exhibits at the permanent exhibition there. Pics/Courtesy Jael Silliman

In her note accompanying the photo album, the friend remarked that it was a 'wonderful additional place to visit when touring Calcutta's heritage sites.' It made me very jealous. Calcutta has something like this to boast about, and what do we have? Where is that one venue here to offer such a well-executed platform for city folk as well as tourists to experience and understand the birth, evolution, and salute the many layers that make Bombay? Sure, both our main museums have continued to pay ode to some aspects, but a single venue to offer a 360-degree view of the city does not exist.

That ongoing exhibition is just an example of the larger picture. Perhaps, it emanates from the immense respect towards all things around the arts and culture that runs in the veins of most janta in the City of Joy. This, we are reminded of time and again during our visits. Life may move at snail's pace in comparison to the electric-fast speed with which we Bombaywallahs are used to, but there is a certain mindset and near-crazed obsession with the arts and culture that forces you to slow down to appreciate. Bombay has a strong, committed band of minds alright, but much, much more impetus and funding is needed to set the ball rolling, and get its heritage and cultural focus in good and safe hands.

As I grudgingly type this column out, I am left with no choice but to reiterate that the city desperately needs such exhibitions and platforms to create awareness about our past and present. This is critical, especially going by the tearing hurry in which our civic gods and babus seem keen to transform Bombay into an insipid collection of character-less high-rises and unappealing 'modern' architecture. For the sake of Bombay, let's celebrate what is left of it, before we lose that as well.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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