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New Delhi, India
September 25, 2011
I was, therefore, wary of visiting the Jawahar Lal Nehru Museum. Jawahar Lal Nehru was a critical figure in the Indian movement for independence and became independent India’s first Prime Minister in 1947. A charismatic man, though not as revered s Gandhi is; but still. I expected this museum to be a one-sided tribute to him.
We visited Teen Murti Bhawan on a Saturday, when lots of Delhi families, noisy children included, were sprawling across the place. The museum is only part of what is to be seen in the premises here; also within the huge grounds of Teen Murti Bhawan are an early medieval hunting lodge (Kushak Mahal) and the Nehru Planetarium. You can read about them here.
We walked past gardens, up to an imposing façade of typically colonial semi-circular arches, balconies, and shuttered windows, into the museum, which extends over two floors. The rooms are all wood-panelled, lovely old seasoned wood that looked glowingly warm. A well-defined route is marked. All signs are in both English and Hindi, and text (such as in excerpts from letters) is always available with a translation as part of the label.
Surprisingly, a disproportionately large section of the museum is devoted to people other than Nehru. For instance, several galleries are about the social reformers who first began to emerge in ‘modern’ (read late 19th century) India: Ram Mohun Roy, Aurobindo, Keshabchandra Sen and so on—and the evolution of the Indian freedom movement, beginning with uprisings such as the Mutiny of 1857. There are photographs, reproductions of newspaper cuttings, quotations from people, extracts from letters and so on. A lot of this was really too much text for us, and we got bored after a while.
What was really interesting was the life of Nehru himself. This part of the exhibition is what one gets to see first—it’s labelled ‘Young Nehru’. The scion of an affluent Kashmiri Hindu family which shifted from Kashmir to Delhi during the 17th century, Jawaharlal Nehru spent his initial years in India, and was then sent to England to complete his education—first at Harrow, then at Trinity College in Cambridge. He went on to become a barrister before returning to India and joining in what was already becoming a fiery freedom struggle.
The interesting thing about this series of rooms is that there’s not much text, but lots of delightful old photographs and memorabilia: Nehru as a baby; Nehru with his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit (later an eminent politician in her own right); Nehru at the age of ten; Nehru at Harrow, later at Cambridge, and so on. (I loved a photo of an elderly Nehru coming to Harrow in 1960—he’s surrounded by students who are all obviously very joyful to see a celebrated alumnus amongst them)!
There’s even a postcard—written in barely-legible Hindi—to his mother in Delhi, to whom he wrote while holidaying in Kashmir. Best of all, to me, was a letter sent (when Nehru was at Harrow) to his father. Nehru was obviously more at ease writing in English than in Hindi; he talks about how he had been at the top of his form as expected, and had been informed that he would be given a prize—which he had assumed would be bestowed in the headmaster’s office. Nehru confesses to being ‘nervous’ on discovering that the prize was actually to be given in public!
This part of the exhibition has other gems: a photo of the newly-wed Nehru with his bride Kamla; a ‘formal wedding group photograph’; and a copy of the invitation sent out for Jawahar Lal and Kamla’s wedding reception. There are other photos, too, of Nehru’s children, including (of course) Indira, who was to go on to be India’s first (and to date, only) woman Prime Minister, till her assassination in 1984.
The upper storey of the museum is devoted more to Nehru’s role as a politician. There are photos and news clips, quotations and extracts from text here of him as the man who helped build independent India’s constitution (you can see the preamble to the Constitution too); who finalised the painful partition of India; and who later went on to help build India’s rural economy, its education, and more. There are photos, in the Ball Room, of Nehru as an ambassador of goodwill (and politics) abroad: with JFK; with Sukarno; even with Rabindranath Tagore and Walt Disney.
Finally, there are the sections that used to be Nehru’s personal rooms at Teen Murti Bhawan: his study (the museum includes books originally part of Nehru’s library); drawing room; and the room where he eventually died. Part of the upper storey is decorated with the many gifts Nehru accumulated during his interactions with other statesmen, or which were bestowed on him by a respectful populace: a gold key to the city of Tokyo; a bejewelled case from the USSR; a fabulous panel adorned with mother-of-pearl, depicting the four-lion national emblem of India, but made in Ethiopia, and so on.
All in all, an interesting museum, which helps vastly in bringing to life a man who helped mould modern India—and brings him to life in a very personal way. The museum has a souvenir shop (which we gave a miss), and entry to the museum is free. Teen Murti Bhawan is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30 to 5.30; no entry is allowed after 5.15. Photography is allowed all across the premises, except in parts of the Nehru Planetarium. Try to avoid visiting on the weekend, when it tends to get crowded and noisy. The gardens of the Bhawan are extensive and gorgeous in spring.
From journal Delhi: Some Museums, Some Memorials
Northampton, United Kingdom
April 10, 2009
From journal Major Delhi Attractions