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Of museums, their impact on the people

Shihab Sarkar | Published: September 05, 2019 21:22:15


Muktijuddho Jadughar — Photo: bdnews24.com

The photograph of a country boat speeding languidly on a Bangladeshi river printed in a newspaper recently delighted many readers. That was not all. There were other attractions --- the boat appeared to have flown straight from the page of the school textbook.  Books in the syllabi of classes from primary to junior levels in the past would invariably have the sketches of a sail-boat. It was a period when the view of boats, rowing boatmen and the hookah-puffing 'majhee' at the 'haal' (rudder) was a common feature in the Bangla textbooks.

These days, illustrations of country boats continue to disappear from the pages of books. They remain limited to the walls of photo or painting galleries displaying boats exclusively. Most of the textbooks have few writing pieces that need illustration of country boats --- especially boats with sails. We love to call the country a river-strewn one. Its waterways once were filled with myriad types of boats. Unfortunately, it does not have a museum fully dedicated to this traditional mode of water transport. This national drawback is apparently depriving the inquisitive children, those living in the urban areas, of having a clear idea about boats. In the Nordic countries, massive ship museums are considered a national pride. Some of them put on display the original commercial ships and warships which once would travel thousands of nautical miles. The replica of a magnificently built, 17th century sail-propelled warship draws thousands of tourists to a museum in Sweden exhibiting the vessel. It takes more than two hours to have a complete view of the ship. The grand ship in its maiden voyage sank before travelling even to the vicinity of the main sea. The loss of the ship had hurt the ruling king so much that he ordered building a similar ship, which he would keep at a harbour. The harbour later was turned into a lone-ship museum.  

That Bangladesh has yet to set up a full-scale boat museum may surprise many from abroad. Lots of them who visited this land before the wide-scale launch of small engine-run vessels literally fell in love with Bangladesh boats. They included a few gifted photographers, who did not miss opportunities to take snaps of various types of Bangladesh boats. Boats are manually operated in many river-dominant countries. They include both western and eastern Africa, South America's Amazon basin, the Sub-continent and Southeast Asia. 'Dingis' and kayaks mainly comprise the boat collections in these regions. According to boat experts, these supposedly improvised boats are no match to the artistically designed boats of Bangladesh. In the earlier times, these boats used to move majestically along the rivers of Bangladesh. Most of them have disappeared. It is this fact which necessitates the setting up of a grand museum of boats in Bangladesh.

The rural past of Bangladesh was actually a colourful time incarnate. Besides the manually done agriculture and its scores of variety, different aspects of Bengal's rural life represented pageants and innocent jubilation in the happier times --- especially after a good harvest. It's only the museums representing the village life which can preserve these facets of the country's rural past for the posterity.

Boats constitute only one segment of Bangladesh rural life. During the folk social activities and other related mirthful occasions, people in the past would find themselves literally amid a cultural fiesta. These aspects of the country's mainstream rural life deserve to be preserved at separate museums. For instance, while one group of museums will focus on the paraphernalia representing the performing arts like songs, 'jatra' (a kind of indigenous operetta) or acrobatics, the others might turn to agricultural practices followed in Bengal in the past. Apart from the tools used in preparing lands for farming, those handled by farmers during crop harvests and the post-harvest period could also be demonstrated to the younger generations. Abstract issues and the occasions involving live persons could be presented through paintings. This is what has been done by institutions like the Smithsonian Museum chain in Washington DC, USA. These museums help the visitors take an in-depth look at the basic evolutionary processes through which mankind has reached the modern age from prehistoric times.

Keeping the younger generations aware of the basic emblems of the past at some stage becomes imperative. Bangladesh may not have the strength and ability of establishing an air and space museum like the one run by the Smithsonian group. But it can offer glimpses of subjects ranging from the domestic aircraft history to the bygone days of motor cars --- by putting them on display.

Although Bangladesh is far behind the technologically advanced countries, its people have long been experiencing motorcar and air travels. Dhaka has yet to open a museum showcasing either motorcars or passenger aeroplanes of the past. It, however, has an Air Force Museum established in Dhaka in 2014. In South Asia, Nepal's aviation museum has already drawn global attention. The large museum in India displaying early passenger aircraft and related materials is acknowledged as South Asia's best. A total of 20 full-fledged aviation museums dot the globe. They are located in countries ranging from Russia to Australia to Canada and the USA. Spain can take pride in its air museum, located on the outskirts of Madrid, which is acclaimed as one of the largest in the world in terms of representation.

Bangladesh has wide scopes for launching museums of different types of transports used in the past. Apart from boats, horse-drawn carriages, bullock carts, palanquins and a lot of now-obsolete means of transport could be centrepieces of museums. The railway has been a popular transport for over one and half centuries in this land. In spite of its slow growth and inherent weaknesses, its popularity still continues to rise. To the chagrin of many, the nation has not yet been able to set up an operative railway museum. The one opened in Chattogram's Pahartoli amid much fanfare in 2003 now stands in a nearly dilapidated condition. Lots of enthusiastic people are unaware of the existence of this museum.

A major museum in Bangladesh in the national perspective is the Muktijuddho Jadughar, the one focused on the 1971 Liberation War. After shifting from a humble location in Segunbagicha in the capital, it is now placed in an imposing building at Agargaon. The 9-month-long Liberation War was the most glorious chapter in the country's history. The nation's gratefulness to Liberation War heroes comes alive in the spectacles of the long queues of teenagers entering the museum. The brave Freedom Fighters' arms and ammunitions, parts of the remains of genocide victims and the proofs of destruction, along with hundreds of objects showing the resolve of the Bengalees dreaming of freedom are on display at different galleries at the museum. Besides the National Museum, it also deserves to be called a national institution. Earlier, Bangladesh Military Museum came up as another major establishment, the seeds of which were sowed during the 1971 Liberation War. The country has not failed the people eager to know about the nation's history, heritage and the episodes of valour. It's true Bangladesh lags behind many countries in opening museums, which can pick any object as their subjects of focus. It is a matter of delight that the nation hasn't dithered to pay its tribute to the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by dedicating a whole museum to the independence leader.   

The country has recently set up a money museum. A rocks museum is in place under private initiative in the northern district of Panchagarh. Yet many themes or objects are missing. Those include a fully-operative and autonomous Language Movement Museum and a fashion and clothing museum. Days may not be too far before seeing them come up in the capital.

 

shihabskr@ymail.com 

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