Mallika Ahluwalia, a public policy professional from Delhi, isn’t one to treat museums as repositories of mothballed relics and nostalgia. Instead, her curation takes visitors through a visceral experience of the past. The 35-year-old curator’s project—the Partition Museum, housed in the historic Town Hall building in Amritsar with its arched verandahs and Venetian glass doors, does just that—it humanises the Partition story. So, what were the objects that women treasured at that time? Textiles, diaries, books and utensils they carried as they fled their homes tell their stories. The agony of the immigrant experience manifests itself in a Satish Gujral painting, where memory pours out on canvas like dark waves.
Creative entrepreneurs like Mallika are transforming the museum experience in India. Not only are they breaking away from antiquarian structures, they are also investing in better research, technology, outreach and design. They are experimenting with various storytelling techniques—from chronological approaches to narration to deliberately haphazard displays. Even though funding remains a challenge, a trickle of grants from individuals and corporations has set the ball rolling for innovation. The Union culture ministry is backing new ventures, and encouraging older institutions to act as catalysts for change.