A Hidden Treasure In Vizag
A Dyanora black and white television, an old murphy radio, a grubbly-looking His Master’s Voice gramaphone, a German-made organ; as I wandered around, looking at the haphazard display I could not help but turn up my bulbous nose at the modest collection.
After all I hail from the city which is home to the great Indian Museum; or if you consider my present home – it boasts of another great Salar Jung Museum. So if you detect a certain degree of snootiness creeping in for the oddball display at Visakha Museum in Vizag I should be excused.
The collection housed in the museum’s heritage wing can be at best described as an assortment. A peacock shaped paan container, a few portraits of royals, spears and guns, some old photographs of the port city, some new ones, different types of sea weeds, life size models depicting traditional way of life, miniatures of buildings made by local artists, a set of wine glasses, porcelain artifacts – truly, a random collection.
But then as I ambled through the collection once again, unknowingly, a design seemed to emerge. I recognized the myriad threads which woven together brought out the beautiful pattern. Sadly, I had failed to notice it earlier. The collection which bears testimony of the generosity of the residents, traces the growth of the city, previously known as Waltair to its present day incarnate, Visakhapatnam. Nestled between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal it was the place where people would go for “a change”.
And the museum upholds its cosmopolitan culture and reflects the love and pride showered by its inhabitants, on this beautiful, green and clean coastal city. And that is why the first television set of Vizag has been preserved in the museum beside the old Murphy radio and HMV’s gramophone. The German-made organ with pedal, bearing the name of its past owner, Gouri Ghosh, undoubtedly a long time resident of the city, has been donated by her nephew in memory of his aunt. Looking at it, one can almost visualize a young woman playing the organ while rendering her favourite Rabindrasangeet. A piano cum veena – an invention of another resident is also on display. A concrete piece of the demolished Berlin Wall has found its way to the collection along with a certificate of authenticity thanks to the Vizagite who had probably bought it during a trip to Germany. Some have bequeathed their personal collections to the museum such as that of sea shells and weeds, donated by marine archaeologist, EV Gangadharam. The royal houses of Vizianagaram, Jeypore, Bobbili and Bheemunipatnam have also added to the collection.
And when their beloved city was hit by Cyclone HudHud the inhabitants captured the trails of destruction in their lens and donated them to the museum, recognizing the need to chronicle it for posterity. Indeed, it is a people’s museum.
But if you are least impressed by such thoughts do not fret because the key attraction of the Visakha Museum is its Maritime wing, the only one in the Eastern Coast. Vizag serves as the base of the Eastern Naval Command and the Maritime wing serves as a key reminder of the country’s naval victories and achievements.
Actually, it is the quaint yet resplendent white colonial building which easily catches your attention during wanderings on the Beach Road. The heritage wing (anachronistically) is just a later addition behind the beautiful old colonial building, more popularly known as the “Dutch Bungalow”. It was built by Dutch planters about a century and half ago. It is distinctly different from Raj era stone structures like King George Hospital though the British used it as quarters for civil servants. Finally, after passing through the hands of Rajah of Daspalla estate it came to the civic body which wanted to convert it into a hotel. Thankfully, local residents prevailed and the museum at the naval base was shifted here.
I had reached well before the official time when it was supposed to throw open its gates to visitors. A few staff members were hanging around the spacious verandah but readily dispersed as I trooped in. Needless to say I was the only visitor for the entire duration of my stay.
As you enter you are greeted by huge anchors of ships, gargantuan brass bells (including one of the first nuclear submarine INS Chakra) and different insignia of merchant ships, Coast Guard and that of Indian Navy. There are photographs of Ptolemy’s maps complete with meridians, ancient India’s naval exploits and our maritime history including heroes like Kanhoji Angre or Haidar Ali who defeated the English at sea.
The coconut used for anointing the first indigenously built merchant ship, Jal Usha by our first Prime Minister is on display. Another interesting display was one of the three bombs dropped on Vizag by the Japanese during World War II. While one exploded, two were diffused.
The story of how Pakistani submarine, Ghazi was destroyed by Indian Navy near Vizag coast during the 1971 war has been outlined on map. So has been Operation Trident which inflicted heavy damages on Pakistani Navy during the 1971 war and observed as Navy Day in the country. The museum is truly a treasure-house of interesting information on Indian Navy, its fleet – both past and present, armaments, submarines, equipment and its personnel and even lighthouses.
If your confidence has been shaken up by the recent setbacks suffered by Indian Navy you need to visit the Maritime Museum to reaffirm your belief in those who guard our seas. After all as India’s one of the most admired sailors and a hero of 1971 war Vice Admiral GM Hiranandani was given to saying: “Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.” Visakha Museum offers that opportunity of learning our lessons well.