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Dear readers,

A very warm hello from Anne de Plume. My apologies for being so regularly irregular on ‘Iris’. However, life and time sometimes take very abrupt twists and it becomes difficult to catch up with the closest friends and well-wishers. I really hope I do better in the years to come with Iris. However, today is not meant to be a mourning or trip through nostalgia. I am here to introduce a guest post by Dr. Amit Arora on Iris today. Dr. Amit is a Material Scientist by training and a keen enthusiast in cultures and politics. Today he writes for us about his experiences of a visit to The Asiatic Society at Kolkata and about his impressions from this visit.

Do write back your comments and share your thoughts.


The Asiatic Society at Park Street Kolkata

The Asiatic Society at Park Street Kolkata

We pay regular visits to temples, churches, and mosques. In fact, we make our children visit religious places diligently. However, how many of us actually encourage our children to go and visit a library or a museum? It’s not our fault either. The libraries and museums in India are in such state that their existence and efficiency need serious debate.

Amid all the controversial statements about our ancient knowledge in astrology, astronomy, physics, nuclear science, plastic surgery and what not, today we visited the library and museum of The Asiatic Society (est. 1784) in Kolkata. I had a lot of mixed feelings; pride in our knowledge and history, pity on the condition of the library and museum (when compared to other countries, it drove me angry the way we treat our national heritage), disgust at our political system (as usual) and despair at the future. If you have any interest at all in our history and our heritage, you have to visit the place once! We saw old manuscripts from 17th and 18th century preserved and kept very diligently (note the missing adjective “Beautifully”).

The staff of both library and museum were more than wonderful and were really happy to see someone with genuine interest in the books and history. They took us around the library and museum for hours and helped us see very-very ancient manuscripts.

Here are some things which we saw:

In the Library: The journals, many of which now have fortunately been scanned and placed online too. The original paintings of Robert Home called Ruins of Mahabalipuram. The conference hall, the podium where great speakers have given discourses. The lab where they restore and give new life to old manuscripts (it’s a wonderful lab with many different means to protect books from decaying).

In the Museum: The original handwritten Vol. 1 of The Asiatic Society, announcing the formation of the society and its founding members. The original letters by C.V. Raman, J.C. Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, William Jones, Meghnad Saha, S.N. Banerjee. The original manuscripts of Badshahnama, Persian translation of Mahabharat, Ain-i-Akbari, Many other 16th-17th-18th century original manuscripts of Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Assamese, Siamese, Chinese, Prakrit, Hieroglyphics, Nepalese, Rajasthani, Bengali, Odia, and many other languages. Edict in Prakrit on Stone by Ashoka, original painting of Cleopatra by Guido; and many other gems of human history.

The sad part of the whole trip was that we were treated as very special visitors just because we had interest in the books and in the history. If only our govt could promote it, there would be hundreds like us and we will be happy to remain anonymous. Towards the end, the staff member from museum told us that there are hundreds of old manuscripts in medicine which have never been opened and might reveal many secrets of our ancient science if read and translated. I hope with the govt being proud of our history and the talk of the town being focus on our own culture, we will be able to read a few of them soon. I have some specific requests to the govt:

1. Give an initial 100 crore grant to the museum for overhaul of their establishment and better facilities.
2. Start 100 fellowships at the library for study and translation of the old manuscripts. The Sanskrit scholars should be encouraged to take up reading and research on these historical gems.
3. Promote the museum and the library among the scholars as well as the common public. Give schools, and colleges special funds to organize visits to such places.

If you agree with my views, please share it with your friends to raise awareness about our heritage.

Amit Arora