Mighty pillars, similar to those from the Roman era, hold this magnanimous structure constructed in 1920 that once housed the Imperial Bank of India in the subcontinent. Now operating the country’s first and only money repository – the State Bank Museum, the building came under the possession of the State Bank of Pakistan in 1920, wherein many of its departments served till 2004. Under the much thriving leadership of the bank’s Governor Dr. Ishrat Hussain, it was turned into a money museum and was inaugurated on July 1, 2011, under the expertise of Dr. Asma Ibrahim, who previously worked at the National Museum of Pakistan for the past 20 years. “When I joined, I thought, who would come to see such a small museum in a high security area? And proposed an idea of a museum that depicts the great history of the coinage in the subcontinent. Hence, I used the theme of barter system up to e-banking followed by the evolution of coinage evolved in the Indian subcontinent from 600BC till date,” says Dr. Asma, who joined the project in 2006, which took five years to get through.
For someone who hasn’t been to an international museum, the State Bank is one they must see. The museum is extremely well-maintained and is located on the Wall Street of Pakistan – I.I. Chundrigar Road in Karachi. An ample space that houses not just monetary possessions but also extensive artwork on its mezzanine floor, donated by collectors and artists, as well as those made for the museum, exclusively.
A member of two international museum bodies, the State Bank Museum is affiliated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the Commonwealth Association of Museums, and it wouldn’t be wrong to call it a world-class structure, as it has all the facilities one requires to assist its visitors, even those with special needs. “This museum is fully accessible for the differently abled,” Dr. Asma proudly states. There is a set of two wooden staircases that leads visitors to the art galleries, however, I am unable to spot a wheelchair ramp, leaving me eager to enquire how the physically disabled would make it up there? “Since it is a heritage building, it is difficult to add infrastructure for the differently abled,” Dr. Asma agrees, adding, “but I have been doing research on how to take such visitors upstairs and have heard there is now a special chair available in Pakistan. Therefore, I have added that into my business plan this year and we will hopefully place it on the staircase,” she says, looking forward to achieving the museum’s much needed goal.
It is not just monetary possessions that are preserved through the efforts of those administrating the museum, in fact, the colonial structure which is part of our cultural heritage is also maintained simultaneously along with several other acquisitions made over the years. The museum gives citizens an opportunity to learn about history and those who have served the banking profession in Pakistan. A gallery dedicated to all the retired governors is a delight for history buffs. Its walls carry their portraits, wherein former SBP Governor, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar’s portrait stands out among those of her male counterparts, as she is the only female Governor to have headed the State Bank of Pakistan.
The museum’s Assistant Director, Muhammad Aslam gave me the museum’s tour, and told me the nitty-gritties of all the galleries, from the SBP Governor’s gallery to two of the coin galleries, from currency to stamp and lastly, the art gallery. He has been guiding visitors ever since he started working for the museum since January 2012, before which he served the SBP for 28 years. “I thoroughly enjoy the company of children when they visit and try matching up to their level of understanding while giving them a tour of the museum,” claims Aslam. To my question on how much children enjoy the tour, he responds, “Some children just take photos of the facility, some click selfies, while there are others who take immense interest in what the museum possesses,” declares Aslam, sharing an instance where students from a school were fascinated with the museum’s rare acquisitions during a visit a day before.
Despite living amidst the hustle bustle of Karachi, I was unaware of the museum’s existence until a year ago. This is, unfortunately, because places like the State Bank Museum are not publicised enough in our part of the world. However, to make it known among the general public, the museum is active on social media and uses Facebook and Twitter as a platform to communicate with people. Its presence at children literature festivals, wherein they mainly attract kids and equip them with model making and currency shining techniques, are a few of their commendable efforts. Souvenir stalls at various educational fairs taking place time and again also add to the word of mouth that helps this museum flourish day by day.
“We host around 200 students daily and don’t allow more than that because of security (issues) and also because I’m very particular about students’ involvement in the museum. I want to pay individual attention to them as they will be looking after our heritage in future,” asserts Dr. Asma, talking about the increasing number of visitors.
Along with a dedicated team of assistants and guides, Dr. Asma proudly states that running the museum gives her immense joy. “I did whatever I wanted, as they (SBP administration) gave me the funds and never interfered with my work. I’m happy that I could make a museum of my dreams and it’s like my dream come true,” Asma gushes, as she shares her life’s ultimate goals with us.