Museum hopping in Dhaka | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 18, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 18, 2018

Museum hopping in Dhaka

Of mail and currency

Continuation Of Last Week - part II

Making sense of a city

 

Museums are boring — a common complaint goes. If you are amongst those who agree with this thought, think again!

Museums are, in fact, a very powerful and entertaining medium of learning. Perhaps you have not been to the right museum yet, the ones that would appeal to you. They do not just deal with history, arts, or culture. They can actually be of literally anything. If you explore museums, you would sooner or later find one which you would love.

Dhaka has more than a dozen museums. Some prominent; others lesser known.

This week, Star Lifestyle takes you on the second and final part of a tour of the myriad museums in the metropolis.

 

We share a strange love-hate, bittersweet relationship with our city, don't we? Dhaka is a whirlwind of chaos and confusion, and it often gets on our nerves! But the capital is also a land of promises and of dreams, a place of familiarity, warmth and love.

Dhaka is our home.

To cherish the memories of this great old city we call our home, there are a few museums you can visit.

Let's start with Lalbagh Fort. But is the Mughal complex a museum? In a way, it is. One of the old buildings — believed to be the residence, audience hall, and the hammam of Subahdar Shaista Khan — is now host to many artefacts such as swords, shields, and pistols from the 18th  and 19th  centuries, among other items.

As you marvel about the majestic mosque and Bibi Pari's mausoleum, spend a few good minutes checking out the antiques showcased in the building.

Similarly, one may say Ahsan Manzil too can be considered as a museum. As a matter of fact, it is one of the 'branch museums' of Bangladesh National Museum, according to the latter's website.

Facing the Buriganga, the 19th century palace was the residence of the Nawab family of Dhaka, with the likes of Ahsanullah belonging to that aristocracy.

A tour of the imposing palace will not disappoint you. The layout or flow of the tour — the route through the myriad chambers or sections of the residence — follows quite a logical sequence, whilst telling the narrative of the nawabs.

The regal dining hall, the grand stairway, and the furniture of the house reflect the opulence this family had enjoyed. The collection of objects which were once used by that family now comprises of amazing antique pieces.

On the other hand, Dhaka Nagar Jadughar, housed inside Dhaka Nagar Bhaban, also has a few artefacts and everyday objects on display.

Take for example, a clock once used by Hakim Habibur Rahman. For many, this name may not mean much. But if you are a history buff who is enthusiastic about Dhaka, you will surely be drawn to this exhibit. After all, the man was not just a physician and an associate of Sir Salimullah, but the author of Dhaka Panchas Baras Pahle and Asudegan-e-Dhaka, two supremely precious books on our city.

The museum, overall, attempts to present the various histories and heritages of Dhaka. Meanwhile, Dhaka Kendra in 24 Mohini Mohan Das Lane, Farashganj is a haven for history enthusiasts. The centre — which is a project of Maula Buksh Sardar Memorial Trust, and located on a rooftop adorned with plants and greenery — comprises of a small museum and library.

But the rather small place is a marvellous one stuffed with numerous antiquities, from clocks to a water filter used in a motor workshop, to many heirlooms that were once seen in households. The library too, has an impressive collection of books on Dhaka, some of which are hard to find in shops.

The staff members of the library are cordial and helpful, allowing visitors to share their resources (by photocopying, photography, etc.) with much swiftness and efficiency. You can sense a genuine desire in their efforts to help researchers and enthusiasts.

Isn't this the very quality that makes a museum or library a great one?                     

Weekly closure

Lalbagh Fort is closed on Sundays; Ahsan Manzil, and Dhaka Kendra are closed on Thursdays; Dhaka Nagar Jadughar is closed on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Quenching the curious mind  

Children's minds, one may reckon, are the most inquisitive. The million questions they throw at you reflect their enthusiasm towards all things around and beyond them. To nurture that attitude and to direct it towards science and exploration, take your child to National Museum of Science and Technology, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre.

The science museum at Agargaon is a rather large one, featuring a variety of disciplines, from biology to space. Perhaps, the best aspect is the fact that a large chunk of the exhibits are interactive.

Mitul, a junior executive in a local company and a father of an 8-year old, thinks that this is one of the few museums where his son does not get bored. “There are plenty of buttons to press and simple experiments to do. The objects in this museum are therefore very engaging,” he said.

From kaleidoscope and cinemascope to optical illusions with mirrors, the exhibits are fun and thought-provoking. And they are all simple to use and easy to understand. Take the exhibit called Musical Tubes as a demonstration. It comprises of a set of hanging metallic pipes and a hammer. And as you hit them with it, each pipe produces a different musical note. The descriptor or label comes with scientific explanation.

The museum also carries out star gazing from its rooftop. Seeing the night sky through a telescope is an experience like no other, and, one may add, should be done at least once in a lifetime by every human being. Although there is much light pollution and dust pollution in the city, the programme by the museum is worth a visit.

On the other hand, the shows at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre at Bijoy Sarani are worth watching. The large and majestic dome of the planetarium comes alive with stars and planets and the wonders of space. The brilliantly produced shows are as entertaining as they are educational.

The two institutions therefore provide a fun experience for children and open their curious minds to the fascinating realm of science and technology. And adults too will be able to appreciate science and learn or relearn many things – or, at least, reconnect with their own curious souls that perhaps lost itself somewhere down the line? 

Essentials —

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre is closed on Wednesdays and National Museum of Science and Technology closed on Thursdays. There are a number of planetarium shows each day. Meanwhile, the sky observation programme at National Museum of Science and Technology takes place on Fridays and Saturdays, from around the time of sunset to about one hour.

Stamps and postal services, and coins and bank notes – the two areas may not have a lot in common, but a commonality they do share is the fact they reflect political and social histories of administrations and economies – along with the fact that the items involving these two fields, excite many collectors.

But you do not need to be a philatelist to visit the Postal Museum, inside the premises of Bangladesh Post Office, and a coin collector to go to Taka Museum at Bangladesh Bank Training Academy in Mirpur-2.

The postal museum has a collection of stamps from all over the world. It also tells the story of the postal services rendered in the olden days. A tribute to the 'runner' (i.e. postman) has been expressed by a diorama: a life-size model of a man carrying a bag on his shoulder, a hurricane lamp, along with a spear and other essentials.

The exhibit is complete with poetry and literature — including the celebrated poem and song, Runner —a tribute to the unyielding services of the runner.

The museum also contains a number of exhibits of age-old objects used by the postal services, from rubber pads to letter boxes.

On the other hand, Taka Museum features a rich collection of coins, bank notes, bonds et al. From cowries (shells, once used as currency) to ancient coins used throughout the ages, the exhibits reflect the social and political history of Bengal. The intricate legends of coins, jewellery made with coins, the diverse array of bank notes, dioramas explaining currency systems, etc. indeed make the museum a brilliant one.   

To indulge in your inner wackiness, you may also choose to visit the photo booth and have 'money' printed with your own photograph!

Weekly closure — Postal Museum (Friday and Saturday); Taka Museum (Thursday).

Museums in Dhaka: Much to improve

The number and diversity of museums in the capital is good enough to satiate enthusiasm of most people. And these museums indeed put up sincere efforts for the education and the entertainment of the visitors. However, one may say that there is still much room for improvement in the museum scene of our city.

To start with, it may be argued that a number of museums require renovation or refurbishment, from improving the presentation of exhibits to modernising the interior. A museum should not be dull and bland.

At the same time, it must be applauded that there have been projects undertaken successfully by some museums to address this issue.  

Indeed, presentation is very important for museums. Typos, misspellings, and other errors are not uncommon in the descriptors, labels, and websites. It is obviously not possible to make anything error-free, but a more rigorous checking would help reduce cases of more obvious and embarrassing errors.

After all, museums are not only public spaces; they reflect a country and its people to visitors from all over the world.

The museum in Lalbagh Fort was facing power shortage at the time this reporter visited. Without electricity, the presentation – and perhaps more importantly, the overall impression – was compromised.

Websites require improvements too. A few museums have websites which are rich in information as they are in their attractive and user-friendly design, but many institutions are yet to catch up. Online catalogues and search tools (not just regarding objects on display, but of archives too) are invaluable for researchers. Unfortunately, there are not many examples of such online services being provided adequately.

On the other hand, there have been instances of time lag between the official inauguration of a museum and the date doors open to the public. General services, facilities, and maintenance issues should also receive more attention. 

It may be claimed that the museums in Dhaka have many constraints, from funding to manpower. And the various initiatives which have been undertaken are positive signs. However, further efforts should be taken to improve these institutions.

Museums, after all, reflect who we are as a people.

 

Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed

 

 

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