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Posted at: Mar 23, 2018, 1:47 AM; last updated: Mar 23, 2018, 1:47 AM (IST)BHAGAT SINGH’S MUSEUM

‘Linking youth with martyrdom biggest challenge’

Aparna Banerji

Tribune News Service

Khatkar Kalan, March 22

As a projector runs an interview of Bhagat Singh’s mother Vidyawati in one of the suave galleries of the newly-built martyrs’ museum at Khatkar Kalan, the museum architect Shikha Jain supervises the setting up of a few exhibits (one carries a horoscope of Bhagat Singh, another carries the belongings – clothes (trousers and a tie), an inkpot, a journal and a stopwatch of Bhagat Singh’s Uncle Ajit Singh) inside the empty glass cases of the museum to prep up the site for the big day tomorrow.

With the museum–finally ready to give the public a glimpse of the Bhagat Singh, ahead of a big political event by the Congress near Bhagat Singh’s museum at Khatkar Kalan, a process which has taken nine years to come to fruition - Architect of the 30,000 sq feet space Shikha Jain speaks on her experiences:

How did the plan for the museum take off?

Lot of land was agricultural land which farmers gave to the government for this space. By the end of 2010 the complete drawing and landscape plan was complete for construction. Since it was initiated the centre so it would come in pockets. It was also decided which agency would execute the plan. It was the government agency. They tried the Mandi Baord but since that didn’t work out, finally Markfed pitched in for the project.

Were you roped in by the state government?

We were roped in by the Punjab government through an expression of interest. They had called for architects and museum designers and we had 40 plus projects on our hands already and the expertise to deal with such a sensitive project.

How big was the challenge to envision an entirely empty space on the life and struggle of Bhagat Singh?

The biggest challenge in envisioning the museum was that Bhagat Singh is a national legend. To do a museum on him, different sensibilities would have to be factored in. There are different communities who have associations with him, Who feel strongly about him. There are family members in Punjab and other people who strongly associate with him. To take a subject, on which everyone has an opinion and to really first look at historical actual life – what are the evidences available – that was the initial challenge. Since there was there is hardly any actual evidence and information available on him at one place.

So you had little to begin with?

To begin with we only had a few artefacts. His janampatri (horoscope), a few artificats – total 10 to 15 artifacts were the original ones which were in the initial museum. Rest of the family history is all in the texts. So we contacted all his family members, especially his nephew Prof. Jagmohan who has done a lot of research. We even did interviews of his mother’s driver and talked to him in the village.

Whatever evidence we could find was gleaned in. Prof Malwinder Singh Waraich – and his publisher Harish Jain were also of great help. The actual collection had to be recreated from all these sources. With these - we recreated the actual strory line of his life from his birth to his execution.

Was it tricky to work with only 10 to 15 artefacts in such a huge museum space?

The museum space is 30,000 sq feet–it took us a total of one year to come up with the idea. We had a team of historians and curators. Things had to be curated and resourced time and again. Because sometimes his family members would not come. Then the construction of the building had to be very meticulous as per exhibits. We had to get even the gallery names checked by the historians. A committee was formed for this job. Representatives from the Supreme Court and the National Archives and people like Prof Chaman Lal, Harish Sharma, Malwinder Singh Waraich, Harish Jain and representatives of the Kuka Movement were all on panel.

The next challenge was creating panels for the museum. Sorting out pictures and writings and deciding which ones to include. We sorted these out through various departments so it did take some time.

Is any work left to be done?

Even now we need to conserve some of the items properly – a conservator needs to work on it. We shall have in house curators and conservators at the museum. On the first floor there is a conservation lab. The museum is built as per international standards. There is a ramp going up to a conservation lab. There is strorage space as well. With time it will work as an international conservation and research space for Bhagat Singh. We have fixed displays and there is also a temporary gallery - any researchers can put up temporary exhibits there in the future. Additionally, an auditorium will show documentaries of Bhagat Singh and the freedom fighters.

Is the process of acquiring artefacts and documents associated with Bhagat Singh complete?

We are simultaneously also outlining the potential sources for future exhibitions and anyone with valuable contributions shall be welcome.

So were you inspired by the persona of Bhagat Singh along the way?

Definitely, it was very inspiring. Bhagat Singh is a national legend and brave soul it was a great blessing for country to have a figure like that. We were clear the museum should send out two messages clearly– it should inspire the youth of India –especially when we were working on panels. Youth and martyrdom were two main themes we wanted to focus on.

What was the greatest difficulty you faced along the way?

The managing of funds. The money was planned as per 2010 estimates but we fell short of that by 2018 with inflation and escalating costs. Landscaping work worth Rs 7 crore is still left. However, we had to make do with the original budget pan and we are glad things have worked out.

The museum concentrates on Bhagat Singh alone and not Rajguru and Sukhdev. Was that a conscious decision?

It was a policy decision. Because this is his ancestral home. The previous museum was only on Bhagat Singh hand the whole place and funding was clearly for Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s museum, so we decided to concentrate on him.

However, there are three images as well as spaces reserved for Rajguru and Sukhdev as well in the execution gallery.

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