I don’t want to talk about the statement David Cameron to the effect that if Koh-i-Noor is returned back to India, British Museum will become empty. Chenghiz Khan wittingly or unwittingly wiped out civilizations without collecting souvenirs, these people did the same, but after collecting some souvenirs. With an exception or two, every civilization in the world did that, the Europeans more effectively than the rest. It’s as simple as that.
What do you call a person who donates his personal collection of antiquities or establishes a museum with his collection or at least provides some money to sponsor an expedition to that effect? Do you call him a connoisseur of art or a robber? Especially, if it is outside your native country? That’s the impression I got when I was in the British Museum today. This is not the problem with the British Museum alone, but with every museum on the face of earth, unless the museum deals only with heirlooms.
One of the most revolting exhibitions I have seen is the collection of Egyptian mummies in the British Museum today. There are mummies in all stages of preservation – some in outer coffins, some in inner coffins, some wrapped in linen, some unwrapped, some mummified body parts, some unmummified and what not. That, along with the artifacts from the tombs, completes the collection. Now, do you call that plain grave robbery or give it some eligaritarian name? That particular thing we call a mummy and involve in nice scientific discussions over is the preserved dead body of a king who was loved by his people or that of a daughter who is the apple of her father’s eye. The people who created those believed that one day, the dead will return and bring happiness again. It’s not me to judge whether they are correct or wrong, but are we correct in the name of science, to dig up their graves and display them unceremoniously in a showcase? Are you happy if someone does the same to you after two hundred or two thousand years in the name of science?
That’s not the end of the story. A city is razed to ground in a calamity, or simply, it wilted away. You go there, dig up some coins and other memorabilia from there just as a show off or in the name of greater good. You know that they are the gods of some religion, whether dead or alive, but you treat them as mere toys without any respect. You saw an exotic bird, killed it immediately, removed it’s innards and stuff it. I still remember the blood at the tip of the feather of a hen which a butcher plucked out for me. Life is life and pain is pain. It can be physical, or it can be psychological. Learn to feel other’s pain.
If this is how life is, and if this is how life will be, my humble request is please do not allow photography in any section in any museum which is connected to life, whether it is the petrified trunk of a tree or a fossilized dinosaur or a hoard from a grave or that of a god. Even if you don’t want to do that, put a notice to asking people to avoid photography as it disrespects the dead.