Do Indians have a sense of history? In ancient India, records were kept and references made to the past. The Mughals too did the same, with many of the emperors writing autobiographies, replete with details about the empire and themselves. The British were, of course, meticulous and the records of their time in India are a treasure trove of information. But increasingly in India, there seems to be a growing disconnect with history. Look at how citizens deface monuments; museums are also near-empty most of the time. Who is responsible for this disconnect: The State or the people? It is difficult to pin the blame on one party.
A latest example of this disconnect/disinterest comes from National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune.
According to a report in a national daily, 51,500 cans of film reels, and over 9,200 prints, are not “physically present” at the archives, and 4,922 cans containing 1,112 film titles, which are not listed in the NFAI’s registers, were present in its vaults.
The missing list includes the best of world cinema, including celluloid prints of films by Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, its sequel Aparajito, Charulata), Mehboob Khan (Mother India), Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker, Awaara), Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome), Guru Dutt (Kaagaz ke Phool) and several other giants of Indian cinema. “Prints of several international acquisitions were also missing, including films by Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves aka The Bicycle Thief), Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water) and Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds),” said the report. Replying to a query from the newspaper, Prakash Magdum, director of NFAI, blamed poor record-keeping and shortage of staff for the “mismatch”.
Who is responsible for this mess? One would say the State and the NFAI but this disinterest is symptomatic of a lack of understanding of the value of institutional memory and a complete lack of a plan on how to even monetise precious archival material, considering how expensive maintaining these items are.
Most museums abroad have adopted measures to ensure to generate their own funds, by selling merchandise, organising tours/talks and even letting out their premises for cultural dos.
This lack of interest in our rich cultural history only makes us wonder why Indians from time to time demand that artefacts of Indian origin must be brought back to the country.
Before making such demands, we must try to evaluate whether we have the wherewithal to keep them safe and in good condition.