Pradeep's lament is an unrecognised truth of GLAM. The feeling is
everywhere. The problem is that we do not realise that unless one is
already an afficianado, bare objects (whether they are trees in a garden or
objects in a museum) are "dumb" to a person. We need human intervention, a
story-teller, a person who brings these objects to life, who tells us how
they affect us, our interests and our situation in life.
So whether it is a trip by the nature-club to our campus wetlands, or
visitors coming to the museum I curate, I see my role as an "interpreter".
This is a concept not widely known but developed by the American National
Parks Service in the fifties.
An object as inherently interesting as a [[katana]] is there on the stand
in our museum, within reach but dumb - an amber coloured handle with brown
leather encompassing its blade, reposing unobtrusively on its stand. By
itself it only says here is a sword. If I were not there,the visitor moves
on unperturbed, to be forgotten when they view the next object, and so on
in its turn.
But when I encourage the visitor to reach out, unsheath it, the sword
begins to come alive to them as a potent weapon of war. Their interest is
aroused. Now is the time to highlight the sword as an object of technical
excellence. The description of the exquisite unmatched sword-making
technique of the Japanese which made it one of the finest swords in
existence, fuels their appetite. I tell them of the sharpness of the edge
(it is now safe and blunt) - so sharp, it can slice apart a silk
handkerchief drifting down onto it. They see the brilliant surface, now
parti-rusted and ask them to hold it in the position horizontal at face
level, where they can see the enemy behind. They understand that the sword
is hard, sharp and tough, all at once, and it can slice a man in half from
head to groin.
The sword comes into context when I tell them it was carried by an officer
of the Empire of Japan in World War II. He would have been a proud samurai
warrior - the head of the family the sword belonged to and the sword itself
handed from generation to generation to the eldest or senior-most in
succession. He would have come to Burma in World War II in 1941 as part of
an invading army from which the British and Indians fled. The Japanese were
merciless to their captives - they themselves preferred death to dishonour
or surrender. They tortured their prisoners and bayonetted them for
pleasure or training. This sword itself may have beheaded many a hapless
The Indian Army's counter-offensive in 1944-45 was merciless and crushing.
Less than 100 of the 5 lakh Japanese who invaded Burma returned to Japan.
The sword was picked up off the body of the officer by a JCO who attempted
to appropriate the sword for himself. It was confiscated by the company
commander Maj RM Rau and presented to the Museum.
For the Japanese family, the loss of the heirloom was as great as a
disaster as the loss of its wielder. The family sword alongwith the samurai
armour was as much part of the family shrine as the Buddha statue. Its loss
in an alien land was a catastrophe. The sword was thus a symbol of tragedy
- to its former owners and the luckless who were its victims. It is also a
metaphor for how a value-neutral technology is misused for man's warlike
After such an encounter with a museum object where the uniqueness,
marvellousness, history and symbolism are all brought out to the visitor,
the sword is imprinted in the visitor's mind. Years after they have visited
my museum, they have told me how they remembered the samurai sword that I
On Wed, Mar 7, 2012 at 8:58 AM, Pradeep Mohandas <pradeep.mohan...@gmail.com>
> It would make up for the feeling of the lack of information that one
feels when one visits a botanical garden.
> On 7 March 2012 08:44, Srikanth Ramakrishnan <parakara.gh...@gmail.com>
>> Thank you both for the encouragement. As for the tree, Pradeep, the
>> idea is excellent. It could be used in a Botanical Garden like
>> Lalbagh, scan the tree indeed. And yes, there is no tree higher than
>> the Metro.
>> Srikanth Ramakrishnan.
>> Wikipedia Coimbatore Meetup on February 12th.
>> Aliens invaded Tamil Nadu, left their Spacship and now it is a Toll
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> Pradeep Mohandas
> How Pradeep uses email - http://goo.gl/6v1I9
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