New Delhi: Where in India would one find a statue of Akbar? At Agra, which he favoured over Delhi as capital? Or at Fatehpur Sikri, the city he laid out and made his capital for 15 years? If you said 'aye' to both these places, then you couldn't be more wrong. There is no statue of Akbar or any other Mughal emperor anywhere in India. Yet it is Delhi that honoured him with a life-size statue and not too long ago. It stands at Children's Museum in south Delhi.
It's quite all right for you to express disbelief when we tell you this. Even we didn't know about it until we visited the museum. And how did we reach the place? Well, that's another story in itself.
Sandwiched between Siri Fort Auditorium and Siri Fort sports complex, and almost hidden from public view, is this museum run by Archaeological Survey of India. It's so obscure that the friendly neighbourhood autowallah and even guards at Siri Fort Auditorium don't know where it is. But when you eventually find your way to this sprawling expanse of green crowned by an impressive building, you realise that it's a unique repository of curated replica works that reflect the history of India as told by its myriad schools of art and architecture that rose and perished over thousands of years.
Yet obscurity isn't the only problem that the museum suffers from; apathy, both public and governmental, has been its undoing. Footfall is dependent on seasons; at other times, the museum looks like a college during vacation. The story of National Museum of Natural History wasn't too different either. But that museum is now history, following a recent inferno; this museum still has hope.
The museum came about in 2008. And the staff say it was mostly due to the efforts of noted archaeologist and former superintendent of ASI's Delhi circle, K K Mohammed. Anyone who has known Mohammed closely would instantly realise that the museum has his thumbprint. Whether they are Buddha statues of the Gandhara School of Art or Chalukyan rock-cut architecture of the Ellora Caves, all the exhibits cover Mohammed's interests.
"The idea was to introduce children to Indian history. The whole museum was put together at a cost of Rs 35 lakh. But sadly, we didn't quite get the kind of public support we were expecting. Nothing much has changed even now," Mohammed said.
But he was less sanguine about the future of the museum. "When we built this, we were accused of following RSS-BJP propaganda. Now that they are in power, they are not bothered about it. Nobody from RSS or BJP has visited it. ASI itself is in a very bad shape due to the neglect of the Union culture ministry. The Modi government has done precious little for heritage or this museum. The future is bleak," Mohammed said. He is now with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.