Walking through the maze of green, past sparsely populated animal enclosures, you wonder if the visit is going to pay any dividends. But the moment you cross the gateway, a different shade of green greets you. More subtle and inviting, the celadon green goes well with the Palladian architecture of the restored Bhau Daji Lad museum.
Our tour starts with the pottery section, with exhibits belonging to students of JJ School of Arts, moving on to the industrial arts section. At each turn, the emphasis is on the fusion of the European and Indian styles – a candle stand, with a floral motif to suit European tastes, given a delicate Indian touch by adding serpents on either end or depiction of peacock feathers on the vases. Each box represents array of collectibles, with inlaid work on brass, ivory, sandalwood and other materials. There are ganjifa cards, miniature Ragini paintings, swords and many a dioramas upstairs depicting Indian life, industry, cultures and religion.
A specific point of interest is the old map of Mumbai or Heptanesia as it was called then. Also on display is the old shipbuilding industry and the goddess who gives the city its name. Interestingly, we are told absolutely nothing has been added to the museum, even during the restoration, barring the green tinge, a floral chandelier and a semi-circular pattern.
Moving up the stairs, laid with Minton tiles, the old insignia – V&A fused into one (standing for Victoria and Albert museum) – comes into focus as do the carpets. These carpets, we are told, were made by con men in prisons. On the back wall are the portraits of the men associated with the museum, including Bhau Daji Lad, who despite being a surgeon by profession was instrumental in gathering most funds for the museum, earning him the accolade.
But where the permanent collection is ever the same, the museum hosts contemporary artists from time to time. On display currently is the Suitcase museum and Museum of Chance by Dayanita Singh. A fascinating concept that imagines a museum as a mobile entity to be packed and taken places, the exhibit features pictures taken by Singh and her family on varied themes. To be displayed till 21 February, it is definitely worth a visit as is the museum for its display and its brilliant restoration by Intach. Try making it your muse one evening…
Note: The museum holds free tours every Saturday morning, both in English and Hindi.