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December 26, 2010

Page: 39/42

Home > 2010 Issues > December 26, 2010

News in Brief

Hindus laud British Museum for extensive Hindu collection

UNTIL a few years ago, the Hindus in UK were protesting that the colonial loot is being misclassified as "museum collection", when in fact it ought to be returned to the places from where it was looted. Then the clever Brits started hiring Indians to curate this loot, and display it with respect in order to win them over, and thereby keep the loot. Over time, history gets forgotten and people get swayed by the aesthetics-upmarket wine and cheese parties at the house of lords and other prestigious places with our own desi bhais as the newly appointed "lords" and so forth. These new kinds of bhadralok ("white Indians") then do the dirty work, which includes getting the heat off the back of the Brit authorities who have no intention to return this loot. As this article below shows, this strategy has worked. Now Hindus "laud" that the Brit museums are holding precious artifacts of India without being bothered that these were looted in colonial times.

In the 1990s, at a Sotheby's auction in New York, I saw a 10th century Vishnu status about four feet tall in impeccable condition, made of black marble. The description in their catalogue was that it came from a Orissa temple. It was being sold by a Brit family whose grandfather had brought it from India after his "service" in India. I was so moved and bothered by this "sale" of India, that I decided to buy it so it returns to Indian hands, which I managed to do. Till this day I have tears when I see the beauty of this murti-it even has signs that people worshipped it at one time. I also bought a 2nd century Gandhar Buddha (now the place is called Afghanistan), and both these serve to remind me of the immense mental colonisation that has taken place as things get reclassified over time.

Starting out as plunder, the object goes thru multiple intermediaries, until it reaches some rick person in England, and becomes part of the elite "private collections". Generations later, at some point his family cashes out by selling it via Christies/Sotheby’s (both of which started as middlemen in colonial times selling off Indian loot to rich Europeans). Some of the best pieces end up in western museums, where today’s generation of ignorant Indians feel "honoured" that the west has put it on display. I guess the old generation of UK Indians who were fighting to get back the Kohinoor and other artifacts must have vanished.


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