Above photo: Statues of Mahatma Gandhi and his wife. These statues are sitting on a long wooden box with flowers in front in a small windowless room in the museum. Is this where Gandhi's body is? Nope. The museum just has these eerily lifelike statues sitting on an empty wooden box for people to bow and stare at anxiously with no other explanation.
Our first day in New Delhi, during the first week of January, brought us to the National Gandhi Museum to learn more about India's most famous citizen and freedom activist, Mahatma Gandhi. The museum was housed at the location where Gandhi lived for the last few days of his life, as well as the place where he was assassinated in 1948. We expected a solemn and informative visit, as well as a chance to escape New Delhi's grey drizzle that extended throughout the afternoon.
Andrew's sister Victoria joined us for about two weeks in India, beginning in New Delhi. Going to the Gandhi Museum was one of the first things she did with us.
The first part of the museum showcases the room where Gandhi lived, a glass case of his final few possessions (spoon, spectacles, cloth, and few other items), and some display boards sharing information about his life and history. Fearing that the museum would close in just over an hour, we walked quickly through this area and were guided upstairs for another exhibit by one of the many museum guides - the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Exhibition.
This upstairs section, and our whimsical exploits within, will be the focus of this blog post. Unlike the downstairs area, it was colorful, poorly lit, and seriously strange. It was like someone visited an American children's museum and came back with the idea of building something "interactive", but without putting any thought whatsoever into user experience or basic design principles. Luckily for you, we got it all on camera. Please note that all commentary below as to the purpose of each exhibit is purely conjecture, as each piece was seemingly randomly situated throughout the museum with no explanation whatsoever. Additionally, most of the pictures below are videos, so if you click on them they will play a short clip.
By placing a hand on the touch-activated pads on the floor this magic human circle brings new meaning to the phrase "love can light up the world." As demonstrated here, love, together with a basic knowledge of electrical circuits, can light up a 6ft halogen pole sitting in the corner of a room for no apparent reason.
This display, situated near the light up pole, encourages visitors to adopt classic Gandhian values of messages of peace, tolerance, and unity among religious faiths. We believe it was successful in this regard. Indeed, few things truly exercise one's sense of peace and tolerance like being fed platitudes from a water-jar-turned-television one word at a time.
A way to one-up the Brisish, who re-introduced chess to India (where precursors of the modern game originated centuries before). In this version, found in poorly lit room, you take wooden dolls and place them anywhere on the board in order to read about a key figure in the Indian independence movement. Note that this exhibit was in the children's room. That is probably why it features so much text. Check and mate. Take that you imperialist dogs!
This gigantic circular air harp is surely representative of Gandhi's pre-activist days where he was the lead member of his university's "Classical Indian Air Bands" team.
By rubbing somewhat suggestively along the upper portion of these walking staffs, you ignite a video about Gandhi's penchant for... you guessed it! - walking. Or so we guess; like many of the exhibits, the touch-function wasn't very sensitive so we couldn't properly turn on the screen above. Listen carefully in the video so you can hear the museum attendant who followed us around showing how to use the exhibits properly.
We are actually fairly confident that this room was symbolic of Gandhi's time spent in prison. By enclosing your hand around one of the Indian-flag colored prison bars to the right and rubbing downward (we are NOT making this up), the television starts playing (we're not sure what) and across from the TV, projections of Gandhi's prison letters are cast into the mock prison cell. The slant on the floor is such that you can't really read them.
Also in the children's room, this kaleidoscope is suggestive of what observing India's independence movement was like for observers tripped out on acid.
This large bowl encourages the viewer to meditate on the nature of existance, as well as the Gandhian belief that the truth lies within. In this case, "within" is a bit more literal, as the words "be" and "true" are projected in neon blue lettering onto a vanishing smoke screen inside of a bowl.
This light up hand quilt yet again demonstrates the Gandhi Museum's exquisite familiarity with basic electrical circuitry. Place your hand on the ceramic hands so that the, um, other hands on the quilt will light up. The hands are in bright colors like blue, green, and yellow, undoubtedly to show that Hindu gods are indeed an important part of the Indian social fabric.
Andrew's piano lessons are really starting to pay off! In this video, he shows off his new musical skills at a piano/typewriter that is vaguely connected to a projection of piano keys on the wall. Also, there are two mini-pianos to the right that light up. We're still confused about how this works.
Finally, here are some still shots of all the busts, portraits, and carvings of Gandhi's face in the exhibit. They're actually really creepy, because each one has televisions playing in the irises that makes it look like you're being watched.
India is a country of things strange to us - cows have more pedestrian rights than people, the Magnum PI moustache never went out of style, and, if Bollywood's telling the truth, people bust out into large coordinated dance routines in the middle of train stations (don't worry, we're still on the lookout). Yet overall, the National Gandhi Museum was likely the strangest, yet loosely informative afternoons we've spent on our trip.