BNHS rare book exhibition to take you through the pages of history
Over 150-year-old lithographs that offer new insight into Indian wildlife, art and culture are part of a new rare book exhibition by Bombay Natural History Society
It was the wealth of natural resources that attracted the British to India or Hindoostan. But once they set foot in the country, its natural beauty and cultural heritage called out to the academically inclined bureaucrats, traders, and employees of the East India Company, who gave the country a gift of their painstakingly documented journeys in the form of text, maps and illustrations. These chronicles got published as voluminous books in the 18th and 19th centuries, but have become rare as time has passed.
The library of the Bombay Natural History Society, however, remains a treasure trove of around 2,000 such books. And since 1992, it has offered the city's history lovers a glimpse of these titles through rare book exhibitions. The ninth edition of the exhibition, which was last held in 2010, will open to the public today, where Mumbaikars can view over 25 rare tomes.
They will be showcased in glass cases borrowed from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. "Some titles can also be downloaded from web-based archives. But the thrill of seeing original books is different," says librarian Nirmala Barure. Here are our top five picks from the exhibition.
From January 3 to 6, 11 am to 7 pm
At Hornbill House, opposite Lion Gate, Colaba Causeway, Fort.
The Birds of Asia (1850-60)
The 12-part book by John Gould is a fascinating account of the avian species found in Asia. One of the most prolific ornithological artists of the 19th century, Gould has peppered the tome with beautiful, detailed illustrations of avian life in India.
Hindostan: Its Landscapes, Palaces, Temples, Tombs
The book is an illustrated display of a series of historical monuments, religious structures and landscapes across India, including this stunning illustration of the inside view of Elephanta.
Scenery, Costumes and Architecture, Chiefly on the Western Side of India (1826)
An employee of the East India Company, Robert M Grindlay was also a self-taught artist, who recorded the landscape and life of early 19th-century India through a series of illustrations and sketches that found their way into this tome. He went on to found ANZ Grindlays Bank.
Life in Bombay and the Neighbouring Out-stations (1852)
From Bombay to Malabar Hill and Hindoo Temple of Mahaluxmee to The Elephants' Hill and Traveller's Bungalow, Khandalla, this book, written by Richard Bentley, is a city history lover's delight.
The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (1886-87)
The two-volume book of the famed BNHS journal is full of observations by British defence personnel and authorities based on what they came across during their field visits around Bombay and across India.
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