The museum is nearly empty. Just once in a while a few tourists walk through the rooms or a family father tries to remember something he might have heard in school long time ago, while the children quickly loose their interest. You can see the relief on his face, helplessness in front of children is never good to occur and the family hastily leaves the room as well. Then you are alone with the gods as your sole companions. Old are the gods, older than you and I. Some are as old as the world itself. Silent they are and reluctant of letting go their secrets. But if you have enough time, you might discover the Gana rides on a crocodile, even if the crocodile’s head is missing. Gana, who wanted to marry Shiva. But he refused her hand and her fury was red and of a glowing intensity. Her need to flood the world so urgent that only Shiva was able to stop her. Proud and erect she stands in front of you, not too interested in your humble affairs, she who now is the Ganges has more important things to handle than you and I. Next to hear stands Yamuna, beautiful clad and with huge earrings, calmer and more at ease with herself. She looks at you while riding on top of tortoise, sceptically examining your feet. How profane to walk if such nice transport is available, indeed. You might sit on a chair for a while, under a dusty Yucca palm and rest your eyes on Vishnu, the preserver. Beautifully he is carved in wood or stone. Look how elegantly he moves his hand in the slight breeze waving through the museum. Impressive is his messenger Garuda as well. Half human, half bird, he the enemy of snakes and therefore of much sympathy to me, carries the god through the time till today and till the day, when we all are long gone. Ganesha you will spot often, most impressive when holding soft-pink lotus in his many hands but distant as well but for an elephant god, intimacy would probably feel most inappropriate. Empty are the rooms of the museum and so you can admire a beautiful turban- crest and a Mughal fly-whisker totally undisturbed. I envy the fly-whisker. Such a thing made of carved wood and plum-feathers would make my life much more pleasant. It is hard to decide, which one among the many Mughal paintings, all of them beautifully coloured you might like best. But impressive and a reminder of long gone splendour is the painting showing the wedding of Shajahan’s son. He rides on a chestnut brown horse, the son, feminine and most fragile, in the background his father on a horse half black, half red and surrounded by a blue shining halo. A firework in the background lights up the otherwise completely dark sky, but the bride, the bride you might be looking for is absent, in the picture she is present just as a promise of a beauty too great as to be depicted. Before you go upstairs to see music instruments or a dagger here or there, you might visit the canteen downstairs. There you will meet the tourists again, mistrustingly looking at the food served, but the family father will be there again. Now, no longer searching for words, but in his element. Sorting out sandwiches, preventing arguments about crisps and joyfully opening Sprite and Coke cans for his daughter and son, with a gleeful: Cheers!
The gods upstairs pretend not to notice, they are older than times and times they know, will come and go and seldom change.
National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi, India. Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 AM to 5PM, Metro: Udyog Bhawan