Prince of Wales Museum
Next January may be my last in Bombay. After having shocked my senses by the sharp contrast between spirited Goa, sleepy town in Himalayas to the constant humming of mechanical Mumbai, I realized than it would soon be time to pack bags. There will be no more hum from the streets of the traffic, no more distant cheer of kids playing in Xavier’s during breaktime and no more view of Azad Maidan with the Victoria terminus beyond, lit up, sometimes garishly…but lit up. And..no more getting caught in traffic snarls on the Esplanade.
I have crossed Prince of Wales museum many times while traveling to Colaba. It is situated near Gateway of India and Taj hotel. Winters are a time when you would see huge colorful butterflies which may have escaped over its stone walls to the green patch between the road dividers. Never did I feel like visiting across the walls… until today. I have had a rather high overdose of museum visits in India to every city or town I’ve been. The museum manages to fit into ever itinerary planned to the point, I started avoiding it altogether. My impression of a museum is a dusty, lonely and empty place with bored people strolling through with a sleepy guard for company. Today that changed. The guard at the counter was the sweetest employee I’ve come across in a public place. He asked whether I wanted to take the audio tour as well, which I refused for today, but decided to note that for future.
My first stop was the sculpture galley. After having seen the sculpture gallery in National museum in Delhi countless times, I wasn’t so impressed by the collection, nor were the sculptures as ornate as the ones in Madras. The “Saraswati” was the one that caught my attention. Limestone, basalt, sandstone and marble, explained a note about the collection. I moved next to the prints gallery, where “Carla Caves” drawn in meticulous perfection in perspective left me gaping for a while. Mentally I decided to give up teaching how to draw! How does one reach this perfection, ever? J Forbes. 1700s something. Just ahead a table and a placard announced a print making session. Some of us caught an artist etching on a piece of sun board with a triangular tool. Another person was applying print ink onto a mould, making a mess of the table and his hands.
“Today’s the first day.” said the boy at the counter.
I followed the crowd into the next gallery which was an assortment of a personal collection. Many family photographs were placed above the pieces. The strong silent gaze of a strikingly stunning man seemed to follow me around. Below the photograph was written “around 1940”. Before stepping out of the gallery I read the name: Karl Khandalavala.
I breezed through the coin exhibit and that of Baluchari saris. My next stop was the exhibition of Alice Boner, a Swiss sculptor who had once lived in India . Her marble sculpture of a visage of a man she admired, resembled very much herself. I felt she gave her own forehead and chin to that form. Her connection to India was evident through a series of photographs of Uday Shankar dance troupe, among them a still young Ravi Shankar. Most interesting was her journal of work on display along with her camera and notebook. In an interesting painting, she had managed to breakdown a complex Indian sculpture into its basic geometric form, a pentagon in this one and a hexagon in another.
The next floor was dedicated to china and fine porcelain. Most of the collection seemed to be donated by Dorab Tata. I drifted through admiring the pieces, a relief of a king and his soldiers in fine ivory; fine Wedgewood; the cameos and then reached the jade. One could but visualize an opulent setting amongst which these pieces would have once rested. Could it have been the Esplanade house; that forgotten carved beauty across the gym? Would visitors coming from various parts of the world have also admired these pieces? Maybe brought some? I looked at the jade collection contributed by Sir Ratan Tata. I tried to imagine why a man would want to share such objects of beauty with rest of the world, when it could give eternal pleasure in solitude. I looked at the asymmetrical intricately carved green jade at the end of the display. And then my eyes followed the amethyst still in the rough, the malachite pieces and the rock crystals…
I was lost in the reverie when I suddenly noticed the clock. This impromptu visit had to be cut short. I quickly made way out of the gates fast in steps with another tourist; he turned towards Colaba, perhaps to explore rest of the city, while I turned in the opposite direction back home.