With the change of government at the Centre, the domain of culture appears to be floating in mid-air, without any commitment, assertion or direction. Surely this is the time to engage actively with the institutions that are languishing in neglect in a concerted attempt to reinvent and reactivate them? Ideally, the legal and operative structures of many institutions like the national and state museums, the archives, the national and state libraries, the national and state Lalit Kala and Sangeet Natak Akademis, the National Culture Fund, amongst the plethora of similar ‘houses of culture’, need to be radically overhauled.
For one, they must cease to be sinecures for ‘family and friends’ of ruling dispensations and, instead, become prestigious governing boards, with members rotating every five years, that represent multiple disciplines, to ensure practical and unshackled support to cultural practitioners. It has become near-impossible to inject our museums, archives and cultural academies with the best and brightest professionals because working with babudom is a nightmare. Adding to the woe is the abysmally low remuneration in a changed market place where the private sector respects professionalism and pays for it. Therefore, the mindset of the political and administrative classes needs to be redefined. The rules that govern these institutions must be restructured so that they become compatible with international norms.
Wield the whip
India’s civilization is a world civilization. It is ancient and contemporary. It is unacceptable to see it being neglected. Equally, it is a crying shame that our archives, as one example, are in a shambles, with the scholars discouraged, and where, more often than not, incompetent, intellectually inadequate babus rule the roost. We need to recognize the importance of those texts, documents and objects that are manifestations of our history. Only then will we be able to assert ourselves in a modern and fast-evolving age.
It is unbelievable that the ruling class thus far has treated the larger domain of culture in India with scorn, relegating it to the backburner, treating our many strengths with distrust. All cultural institutions need to be dismantled and remodelled to bring in professionals to administer them, with the babu as the ex-officio member on the operating board or council. Public-private partnership should be made mandatory to protect the stakeholders who are the citizens of this country. Market price remunerations have to kick in to attract the best in the business. Today, all the worthwhile curators and museologists, specialists in Indian art and culture, are employed in the many international museums that house Indian collections, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the V&A and the British Museum in London, the Chester Beatty Library in Ireland and suchlike. The best of those collections and that legacy is in India. It is a shame that none of the best professionals want to work in the stifling reality of the babu-run cultural institutions of this country.
Many have tried hard to turn back the declining trajectory, but with no luck. Every single good or fresh idea, tried and tested elsewhere in the world in similar institutions, is shot down or sabotaged by the ill-informed and insecure bureaucrat. In an age of specializations and new technologies, the great story of India down the ages lies buried in crumbling buildings infested with termites, covered with dust, congealed in closed minds. Who will wield the whip and bell the cat? Who will endorse the study of this multi-faceted culture? Who will showcase India for its own people and the new generations?