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Blistered Bose heritage brought back to life

Gaganendranath Tagore captures a streak of light streaming through a window and illuminating a device while its inventor, Acharya Jagadis Chandra Bose, dominates the rest of the frame.

Signed November 17, 1925, this painting adorning a wall at Acharya Bhavan — 93 APC Roy Road next to Rajabazar Science College and the Bose Institute — could also be interpreted as the light of knowledge shining outwards from the gadget.

The artwork at the scientist’s home, a massive four-storey building where he lived with wife Abala from 1902 — is as mesmerising and intriguing as the other valuables from the Bose collection.

The Sir JC Bose Trust has engaged the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) and architects DBA Partners to convert the scientist’s home into a museum.

“The property was caught in litigation for a long time but things looked up during Bose’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations. It was decided that his home will be converted into a science heritage museum and, accordingly, we contacted Intach. The culture ministry sanctioned Rs 5 crore for the project,” said Prof. Parul Chakravarti, a member of the trust that Bose created in 1939.

Every nook and cranny of this century-old building reflects the scientist-social thinker’s life — from the living quarters to the library and from the laboratory to the rooftop observatory where he gazed at the stars.

Some of the scientific instruments he had made like the High-magnification Crescograph, Optical Sphymograph, Compound Lever Crescograph, Photosynthetic recorder, Oscillating plate Phytograph are still there, as are numerous scientific slides and printing blocks and the books he wrote and collected. This is where he did his pioneering research on plant science, invented the first wireless detection device and discovered the millimeter length electromagnetic waves.

This is also the place where Mr and Mrs Bose hosted the giants of their time — Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, Sister Nivedita and Abanindranath Tagore to name a few. It was a nodal point in the growth of the Bengal Renaissance and nationalism.

Bose’s love for art and literature (he was one of the first to write a science fiction in Bengali) drew renowned artists and authors towards him.

If Nicholas Roerich gifted him a canvas or two, writers George Bernard Shaw and Rolland gave him books with handwritten inscriptions. Sister Nivedita came with banners of Vande Mataram.

“It is a vast legacy and needs proper care and protection. As we develop this into a house-museum by restoring everything and arranging the display to recreate the time when the Boses lived here, we will attempt to inspire visitors with stories on his achievements, talent and interests,” said G.M. Kapur, state convener of Intach.

Intach is getting expert advice from the Berlin Museum, the Goethe Institute and Austheritage, short for the Australian Heritage Restorations. Some of the rooms will be converted into galleries and space for multimedia interactive presentations.

An outhouse may be converted to house a gift shop and a café.

“Fire-safety measures, an elevator, protective cases, the use of replicas and limited footfall will protect the items,” feels AustHeritage chairman Vinod Daniel.

The wide variety of objects is a major challenge to restorers. To name a few — there is a rock garden and a stone sculpture of Lord Aditya installed by Bose; furniture gifted by the maharajas of Tripura and Kashmir; miniature paintings on silk; and in the living room painted wood carvings and 21 frescoes!

The largest fresco drawn on the wall on lime plaster — a copy of Abanindranath’s Bharat Mata — has lost its background colour to fungus and no signature is visible.

But this could be by Nandalal Bose who is known to have painted the 20 other murals on wooden panels skirting the ceiling of this room.

Painted between 1916 and 1917 this series on the Mahabharata is among Nandalal Bose’s earliest murals influenced by his visit to Ajanta. Here too paint is flaking and restoration is underway.

Restored by Intach are Santana, a painting by Russian master Roerich (134.5" x 83.5" oil on canvas), Abanindranath’s portrait of a 30-year-old Rabindranath and several of Nandalal Bose’s artworks recovered from bedroom walls and cupboards.

“Most paintings needed cleaning, de-acidification and fungus removal. Some of the canvases were torn and the silk needed backing. An oil portrait of Bose was in such bad shape that the paint peeled off at the slightest movement. We restored it,” said head restorer Subash Baral while colleague Papiya Saha recalled that they had to restore “each page of the 11-volume set of plays Bernard Shaw had gifted Bose”.