By Keerat Garcha
As you read this article, the garden at the museum has brought on a new lifecycle of the rare flora and fauna indigenous to the region, the outdoor stone collection stands strong with wisdom silently singing the ballads of the unbelievable megalithic culture of Meghalaya, Mr. War demonstrates the use of a bamboo musical instrument to an enthusiastic visitor...
In the month of September, 2019, I along with my colleagues from Kolkata Institute of Art Conservation was invited to the Ever Living Museum. Founded and operated by a retired Meghalaya government engineer, Mr. Kyntiewbor War, the Ever Living museum is situated at Mawshbuit village, 9 kilometers away from Shillong. It is a living testimony of one’s love for nature, culture, tradition, history and posterity. We visited the museum to conduct a survey about the conservation and preservation needs of the collection and address the issues concerning the same. After spending two days at the museum, we realized that not only was the museum in great hands as far as our knowledge on the subject went but also that the contemporary efforts in traditional museums to preserve intangible heritage are far more accomplished there. Our learning from the visit was indeed great. The idea of a museum was extravagantly replaced with new thoughts and information, varying in degrees of abstraction, as we experienced a unique museum that took a lot of effort to describe with the literary aid that help describe the museum.
When I was training for Heritage Management, I found myself drowning in an ocean of new words and concept and ideologies, and people and places that are associated with a space that the world calls a 'Museum’. Some of these learnings may have stressed on collections and management and outreach as 100% essentials. It took me two years to familiarize myself with these learnings and I am not kidding when I say - just two days to live and experience a modern day museum. I also realized that one of the most important if not the most common area of focus for any museum in the world is ‘The museum sentiment’. It is fair to say that Mr. War’s endeavour curarizes one’s idea of a museum so sophisticatedly and leaves one to wonder ‘What is a Museum?’ all over again. Hence all museums that I will now visit shall be documented as before and after my visit to the Ever Living Museum
The collection at The Ever Living Museum promoted an experience truly free of restraint. Although a lot of people may describe the museum as ‘Ethnographic’, when you sit back and think about the one thing that makes the museum so unique you are bound to fail at the attempt. One cannot describe their collection without striding away from the fact that it is growing, literally. As you read this article, the garden at the museum has brought on a new lifecycle of the rare flora & fauna indigenous to the region, the outdoor stone collection stands strong with wisdom silently singing the ballads of the unbelievable megalithic culture of Meghalaya, Mr. War demonstrates the use of a bamboo musical instrument to an enthusiastic visitor, the galleries glisten with reclaimed light reflected off of the topazes, sea shells and other rare gemstones that are displayed. The museum is blessed by all the souls who have created, used and celebrated ancient traditions in the form of handicraft that represent the galleries of this unique museum, setting it free from the concepts of ‘Themed Curation’ or ‘Artisanal Designs’.
The community oriented museum could possibly find its presence in the 100,000 categories of museums around the world, but if there’s one thing that shall not define this museum in a pre-existing category is the outset of one man’s journey. Mr. War lived a life of a civil officer amidst a commune of tribal tradition and knowledge and began to collect objects as anecdotes of the realization that immeasurable amounts of his fortunate learnings will be lost with time if he doesn’t do what he must. Family and fortune came second to Mr. War’s passion for his community. He brought together the two worlds so beautifully in a place that he now calls home, one that has a unique presence in the community. With his dream project materializing, which now stands in all its glory, Mr. War answers a question that life will have asked each one of us, ‘What can one man do?’.
Capturing the fascinated attention of everything that I have described about the museum so far. if there's one thing that the museum will live up to is its address. Adorning the ‘Happy Valley’ with its mere presence, it promises 100 watts smiles on each of its visitors, young and old, from near and far. With its unique museum experience taking most of the credit and the hearty jaggery biscuits that grace the cafeteria taking some.
Ms. Keerat Garcha, who hails from Faridkot, Punjab is a promising art conservator-restorer and artist. She is currently working at Kolkata Institute of Art Conservation, a unit of Anamika Kala Sangam Trust, supported by Tata Trusts Art Conservation Initiative.