A walkthrough by any other name

Updated: May 18, 2020, 13:34 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

International Museum Day 2020 might be remembered for the way in which it rewrote the roadmap for how we will possibly view and explore the interiors of these treasure houses

Fiona FernandezBack in the 1980s and early 90s, the lending library and annual subscriptions to children's magazines were our only windows to everything beyond what we learnt in school. This varied from unravelling the delights of India's rich folklore and mythology to the wonders of pop culture and slice-of-life adventures; so yes, we learnt lessons from a scheming mantri, a wise-cracking crow, even a bumbling donkey and a diminutive Caucasian superhero in red pants. Apart from Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, Asterix, Tintin and Target, there was a magazine called Sci-Fun [bless my mother for discovering this gem] that made an impression in my list of favourites. As the name suggests, it was a fascinating look at the wonders of science and technology, and an eye into the future.

As updates and alerts about International Museum Day started reaching my inbox since last week, I was reminded of this one edition. The magazine's far-sighted editors had crafted a cool storyboard about how computer scientists [didn't so many from that time wish to become one when they grew up?] had created a system where we could virtually see the displays and exhibits inside public landmarks, including museums and tourist attractions from our home TVs with the mere click of a key. It surely was their idea of a virtual tour, and what has today become the core focus and thought around how content is being routed and consumed in a world coming to terms with an unforgiving, invisible virus.

From webinars to discussions and walkthroughs, today, the itinerary across most major museums and cultural organisations the world over will be packed with sessions that will debate and dissect ways and means to take this challenge head on, without diluting the heart and soul of the museum experience. I've been lucky enough to explore some of these slickly packaged tours and revamped websites [check British Museum; it's super-wow] that offer fascinating views from every corner and contour of these keepers of history and culture. Our city's museums too aren't far behind. Both Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangahalaya and Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum have been doling out interesting and engaging content from their rich archives and collections in educative and interactive ways since the lockdown began.

While both these institutions have always been at the forefront of disseminating information digitally even before the pandemic struck, what's heartening to see is that other city platforms, including smaller and focused cultural organisations, are all in sync with opening up their vaults of information, passages of knowledge and rare archives in the digital space for all to pore over. What this movement has also done is that it has broken down the walls of the physical museum now more than ever before. With long distance travel, especially to faraway lands, seeming like a distant possibility, these virtual escapes are slowly emerging as digital getaways to fuel and nurture the curious mind.

We've come across some really cool ideas, from egging on young minds to illustrate their idea of a new-age museum in a Tier II Indian town, to Know Your Architecture-type puzzles and word games in a big city. It all adds up. As we are all seeing and experiencing today, there is a shift – seismic or not, it's too early to say – towards how we consume information of any kind. And, the museum will be one of the most obvious platforms where we might be able to witness this change. Will we feel content (and safer) by ditching the face-to-face experience of having seen a fossilised dinosaur from the Jurassic era or a hieroglyphic from the Mesopotamian era for good, and replicate it by the virtual option on our tablets and mobile phones? How will our world remember this edition of International Museum Day, and will this make us relook at the museum, inside out, is something that we can possibly revisit by May 18, 2021, for a measured understanding, perhaps.

Until then, a hat tip to every museum and their keepers for the fine work in the digital space to bring us closer to culture and heritage in such socially-depraved times.

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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