Kal, Aaj aur Kal
Quddus Mirza checks the flow of time and introduces different kinds of museum initiatives in Pakistan.
MOST PAKISTANIS LIKE TO EXPRESS THEIR DISSATISFACTION WITH THE SORRY state of museums in the country. In every talk on art and culture, the dilapidated structures, ill-lit display units, dusty corridors and poorly hung art in our prime museums are vociferously discussed. Though many of these people have never been to museums, they feel obliged to comment on places that preserve our past.
One can classify these spaces in three broad categories: General Interest
museums, Art museums, and Subject-specific museums. As far as art museums
go, Faqir Khana Museum, Chughtai Museum and Shakir Ali Museum are
situated in Lahore whereas Gulgee Museum and Naqsh Museum are located in
Karachi. Except for Faqir Khana (dedicated to Mughal miniatures and craft
pieces), the rest are devoted to the works of artists the museums have been
instituted after. In the General Interest section, one can include archaeological museums situated in different cities or historic sites such as Lahore, Multan,
Peshawar, Taxila, Swat, Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Thatta. This includes the
National Museum in Karachi as well. Subject-specific museums include the Lok Virsa (Folk Heritage) Museum in Islamabad; the PAF Museum and the Maritime Museum in Karachi; the Museum of Natural History in Islamabad; the Science Museum in Lahore; the Agricultural Museum in Faisalabad; the Army Museum in Rawalpindi; and the Railway Heritage Museum at Golra Railway Station near Rawalpindi, among many other small museums located in Sind, Punjab and other parts of Pakistan.
Despite the variation in their scale, subject, funds and facilities, all these places
embody our attitude towards the past. In Urdu and in other sub-continental
regional tongues, the term for yesterday and tomorrow is the same: ‘kal’. It is
only the context which separates one meaning from the other. Perhaps, this custom of using one word with two meanings has affected the way ideas of
time and history are negotiated in our part of the world. Often, we are
unable or reluctant to distinguish and differentiate the divisions of time. In
a sense, we do not believe in the disintegration of time as we are perpetually experiencing its flow. This leads to the illusion of ‘uniform time’. Recollections of the past and anticipations about the future are acts that are only ‘apparently’ different. To paraphrase Robert Browning, the present is the instant in which the future crumbles into the past.
A museum presents a specific past that has been polished, perfected and
projected according to the needs of the future (and the perceptions of the
present). In a sense, the reality of the past might be totally different. A visitor
to the museum seeks his past through artefacts from diverse periods of our
history spanning more than five thousand years. The institution of the
museum is very important for a nation that was established in 1947 and
altered geographically in 1971. The experience of a museum, especially an
archaeological museum, serves to invoke and strengthen the notion of nationhood. It also provides, through a variety of exhibits, the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Greek, Central Asian, Arab and English links in our past. However, one finds, equally among intellectuals and the general populace, a tendency to distort history so that it suits the needs of the state. Where can this be seen as clearly as in museums and in history books? The past is often
forged in a manner that suits ideologies in power. The history taught in schools during the rule of a democratic government, for example, is different from that taught during a military dictatorship.