India - Weekend Outing: Museum of Many Names

By my second weekend in Mumbai I was walking around like I lived here. Hailing a taxi? No big deal. Getting to a museum that has 3 different names and knowing all three? Not a problem. We’ll surely end up in the correct place, right? Returning the pants I had purchased the weekend prior? Well…not so fast.

After the usual Saturday morning routine I popped in a cab and ventured over to Mumbai’s version of the Field Museum and Art Institute. I asked for “Bombay Museum,” the cab driver said, “Ah, Prince of Wales Museum?” and the entry ticket said “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.” While the facility name may have a bit of an identity crisis, the building itself pretty clearly invokes the sense that you are to come inside, look at stuff, and try to be quiet while doing so.

In what was solid foreshadowing of events to come, I approached the museum ticketing queue and waited in a line that seemed rather promising. Yet within seconds I was ushered to a new line because I was clearly a foreigner and thus needed to be handled differently. An order of magnitude differently, it appeared. Ticket prices for Indian residents are Rs. 30- and for all others Rs. 300-. Should you wish to take photos –with no flash – that will be an additional Rs. 200-. Still, at roughly 10 American clams this is not a bad admission price for some neat things to browse.
Beyond the ticketing gate there were several old helicopters and other remnants from the Indian military. Cool, I suppose, but not really my thing. I was impressed more by the outdoor placement of this “exhibit” rather than the articles on display. So, I stole a quick glance and then marched toward the museum building.

The B/PoW/CSMVS Museum was built in 1914 and ended up serving as a military hospital during WWI. Given my current devotion to Downton Abbey (television addictions can carry across oceans thanks to iTunes) this all seemed like a most appropriate field trip. Watch a television show and then go validate an hour of vegging by doing “field research.” I’m studious even when off the clock!

Inside the museum is a robust collection of Indian art, artifacts, and natural history dioramas.

There is also a wee bit of English art and pottery that frankly look like the leftovers of Aunt Maude’s estate sale. Fittingly, these items were in small dormered rooms at the top of the museum.

(Naturally, as a student of Mr. Jefferson's, I must take a picture of the rotunda dome.)

I particularly enjoyed a section on miniature Indian paintings. The line work in these paintings is exquisitely fine and detailed. The paintings were done before the advent of pressed paper so instead palm fronds were cut to uniform size and used as petite canvases. Each piece of palm is about the size of a large bookmark.

Eventually, paper made its way over from China and the prints got larger and even more vibrant. The paints used at the time were comprised of minerals and natural plant dyes. Except for one color. Did you know that dehydrated cow urine makes a brilliant shade of yellow? Me neither! Bottom row, second oyster shell from the right.

A good two hours passed while I roamed the halls and climbed the stairs of the B/PoW/CSMVS Museum. Having seen Picassos by open windows in Russia, the Mona Lisa in a pretty hot Parisian room, and now the fur of stuffed, extinct animals fluttering in the Mumbai breeze, I’ve concluded that Americans are not only freaks about hygiene but also hermetically sealed environments.

Once I wrapped things up at the museum I skipped across the street to return some pants at the department store from last week’s girls’ day out. Remember how we chatted about the multiple security stamps and check points when flying in India? Well, returning an article of clothing isn’t much different from that experience. I won’t bore you with the filler details but here’s how it all went down:

1. Enter store, body scanned
2. Get in customer service line, get redirected to “returns line”
3. Get in returns line, get redirected to security line at front of store for a “security inspected” stamp on my receipt
4. Get in security line, get redirected to bag check station
5. Get in bag check line, get told “You don’t need a stamp, madam, it’s okay without.”
6. Like hell I’m going back there without a stamp!
7. Kindly but firmly ask for a stamp on my receipt, go back upstairs
8. Return item, get cash back
9. Get instructions to sign a ledger with my name, phone number, and some other info
10. Fill out ledger with fake information (I got cash, why do we need to talk again?), get redirected to a fresh page in ledger to fill out fake information again
11. Sign “Jane” from “Germany” on new line on new page, leave with cash in hand
12. Look at watch and note 30 minutes of my life have evaporated.

Back on the streets I look for a cab and snap a few more pictures so that I feel like I’ve made full use of my Saturday outing.

First building in Mumbai - perhaps all of India, I can't remember - to use steel in its construction. Miraculously, it's still standing.

Bikes are everywhere.

Oh, nuts!

Typical bus stop. People wait at various points along the street, all striving to be the one who guessed correctly where the door would be when the bus fully stops.

And then, you guessed it. It was pool time. This was particularly gratifying because weather.com notified me that Chicago was currently experiencing temperatures of 7*F.

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