The four-story structure positioned at Burns Garden, Strachan Road, in the heart of Karachi is a must-see site. A year-and-a-half ago when I last visited the National Museum of Pakistan, it was being furnished for an exhibition of exquisite pottery excavated from Balochistan; however, the facility’s premises are still being revamped to attract as many visitors as possible. Fast forward to the present-day, I revisited the historical building and explored the timeworn structure as well as its services to the society which is yet to realise its significance, sadly.
As unfortunate as it sounds, people generally find museums boring. It isn’t just a claim that I am making but something the curator of the museum feels too. “It’s unfortunate if you ask anyone in the city, no one would know where the National Museum is,” says Ejaz Elahi, who has been working as a curator for quite some time now. He laments about the role of media that is needed to promote heritage places among the masses and feels that media can do wonders if it wants to.
Mohammad Shah Bukhari, the museum’s present in-charge has been associated with it for the past 26 years. His experience and expertise with respect to the operations of the museum
are quite notable, as the amount of attention he has given to his job was evident with the number of phone calls he received while responding to my queries.
“I started as an assistant curator, then worked as a curator and now I am in-charge of the museum,” he states boasting about his experience with utmost confidence.
On the other hand, Elahi is an exceptionally knowledgeable curator; his in-depth knowledge about the museum, its galleries as well as the majority of antiquities present in the building, was an enriching experience. “I specialise in statues of Gandhara Civilisation, Indus Valley Civilisation and those kept in the Hindu Gallery,” he asserts and believes that his association with the museum is a reason of pride for him, as it is the only one in Pakistan that houses its own conservation laboratory.
Nevertheless, like most, if not all, recreational and educational constructions in Pakistan, the museum too was apparently short of welcoming the differently abled. Upon seeing the lack of facilities as well as an under construction elevator in the space, one is intrigued to ask what facilities the museum has for such individuals, a question to which Elahi seemed a bit taken aback, however, he retorts vigilantly. “In order to accommodate people with physical disabilities, we are planning to construct a ramp,” he responds after sharing an instance where the museum dealt with one such individual who used a wheelchair. “Once, we had such a visitor, who was taken upstairs through the elevator, we gave him a successful tour of the museum, which was quite challenging for us”, claims Elahi. He also shares an experience of dealing with hearing and speech-impaired children, and guiding them throughout the museum was “an overwhelming experience, where all I did was use sign language to communicate with them,” he says while imitating how he dealt with the little visitors.
One’s presence during the late afternoon hours would generally give off the impression of less or no visitors, leaving one wondering about the number of people showing up at the museum, but Bukhari points out otherwise. “At the moment, the regular number of visitors we have is approximately 250-300, per day. This morning, alone, we had at least 350-400 students visiting our galleries. All visitors are given a tour of the building by the assigned guides, assistant curators as well as the curators according to their age bracket,” retorts Bukhari leaving one quite surprised, actually. “There are certain visitors who visit the museum for special projects assigned to them and are therefore, assisted by our experts and research scholars who provide them with relevant information and facilitate them accordingly,” he says gushing about the museum’s hard-working staff.
As far as the number of foreigners is concerned, many from the world over visit this historical building. To get an idea of exactly how many have visited the museum in the past year, the museum’s Administration Officer hands over a list containing the number of visits made throughout 2016. Nevertheless, the staff manually compiled the list which took them some time, making one thing pretty evident that the museum’s administrative department is yet to get proficient with respect to its digital and online presence. Hence, a total of 652 foreign visitors graced the museum in the past year, wherein the highest number came in September 2016.
In a country where food is as expensive as medicine, visiting a museum is comparatively very cheap. “We charge Rs. 10 for kids and Rs. 20 for adults, but if students of an educational institute visit wearing a uniform, we give them free entry,” Bukhari claims, saying that the individuals include students as well as the faculty and staff, which is a great deal, as it will promote the notion of visiting museums as well as getting children equipped with our heritage and roots. The timings to visit the museum are 9am to 5pm and the fact that the museum charges a meagre amount for an entry is why one must experience the structure and its age-old non-living occupants. •