The British Transport Museum at Covent Garden made over into a living museum is a must see for most tourists visiting London, and an attraction for the general public as well. The exhibits stand testimony to the various modes of transport used in the country during the past two to three hundred years. Quaint models of palanquins, wheeled carts, four-horses driven carts, trams, railway coaches and the city buses first introduced at the turn of the 20th century are mute witnesses to the past.

In a startling difference from other such institutions an admonishment like “Please do not touch,” doesn’t confront the visitor here. On the contrary, they are encouraged to actively engage with the exhibits. Thus, visitors can sit at the wheels of the first buses used as city transport and get a ‘feel’ of it. In keeping with the times, the museum also offers a virtual experience. Anyone can enter the driver’s cabin of a metro train. At the activation of the control, the digital display and simulation provides a real life sensation. As the train gains momentum, stations whirl past, and eventually the train can be brought to a halt at a station.          

Basel in Switzerland has a museum devoted to paper, printing and writing. The Paper Museum is located in an actual paper mill dating back to the 13th century. The mill is powered by a water wheel using the dynamics of the flowing waters of the Rhine. Here, paper is manufactured as per the medieval tradition. The visitor can participate in the process of paper-making. Through such immersion in a centuries-old activity she gets transported backwards in time. If the person is artistically inclined, his imagination can run riot with the colours provided gratis by the museum. These labours of creativity are subsequently framed and given to the grateful visitor.    

Mill
Basel Paper Mill. Photo: Jaiprakash Raghaviah

     

The concept of living museum actually reinvents the paradigm of museums, which usually showcase objects of heritage value for edification and viewing. Living museums enable the visitor to interact with the heritage making for a lived experience. Thus, intangible heritage becomes tangible allowing for an enriching and continuous dialogue with the past.         

There are a large number of living museums in Europe, which usually have two appendages. One will be a souvenir shop. The Paper Museum has one selling letter pads, note books, diaries, paper for sketching and painting and artworks on paper, all made with paper produced in the living museum. Pens, brushes and paints used during the medieval era are also sold. Replicas of pre-Guttenberg books with medieval calligraphy dating back to that period are also available. All are sold at a premium. The London transport museum souvenir shop sells replicas of lights and horns used in early transport systems, toy replicas of rail coaches, buses and other modes of transport. Uniforms used by traffic policemen of bygone times are also on sale.      

Museum
One of the first city buses in London. Photo courtesy: TripAdvisor

   

The other attraction attached to museums is a cafeteria, which act as a rendezvous destination for like-minded souls. Thus, the cafeteria at the Tate Modern is a fashionable hangout of the art cognoscenti.         

The Comtrust Weaving Factory located in the heart of Kozhikode meets all the criteria for transformation into a living museum. The first handloom factory built in the middle of the 19th century by the Basel Mission was the harbinger of industrialisation of Malbar. It paved the way for the textile revolution in Malabar by virtue of the modern technology that was introduced here on par with best in the world at that time.

Some looms can be made operational for weaving products like bed linen, furnishings, dining cloth set and shirting and suiting. Visitors can experience the feel of weaving. The embroidery section will enable visitors to learn the skill practiced by diligent women during that period. Articles produced here should be sold at a premium in the souvenir shop. The factory itself used to have a hugely popular sales wing in its premises.

Water mill
Water mill at the Basel Paper Museum. Photo: Jaiprakash Raghaviah

 

Another unique facility in the weaving factory was a prayer room, eloquent testimont to the Protestant work ethic that ‘work is worship.’ This room can be converted into a perpetual meditation room. Taped music of Basel Mission origin tunes can be played to soothe souls lost in the welter of our fraught times.         

The Government could seek the domain expertise of architects, heritage conservationists and of the IIM-K for developing a business model for such museum, so that it could not only pay for itself but also generate revenue. Such an enterprise would anchor the rich legacy of our port city as the city of values.

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