She runs her finger through a printout of a list of books and their prices. I am exasperated. The prices of the books are printed on the books! One is ₹45 and the other is ₹226. Let’s just do simple addition, I’ll pay, and be on my way. She slowly scans through the list and starts making the invoice.
It has been a while since I saw these two books locked up in a glass display, sitting like hopeless prisoners, who will never see the open sky. The lady who was sleeping on duty was perhaps angry with me because I woke her up. She had no idea how I could go about buying the books. It didn’t help that we didn’t have a common language to speak in, so we made do with hand signals and pointing at books, and such. It was clear that no one had bought books from here for a long time. She shouts out to a man, who is not much help either, but at least he understands I want to buy the books. He finds a scrap of paper and asks me to write the names of the books. He indicates that I should wait right where I stood. I pick up other English keywords in his dialogue and assume that he is going to the office to ask about the books. It’s a long wait. I start walking towards the office. He shows up from nowhere and beckons me to follow him. He plonks the two books on the table and a conversation ensues between him and another lady, who is probably a manager of sorts. I couldn’t say why, but they seemed excited that someone was buying books at the museum.
The lady now goes towards a cupboard and removes a receipt book. She inserts a carbon paper under a fresh receipt. I haven’t seen a carbon paper in ages. But then, I think to myself, where else would you find carbon paper, than a museum? She is near another cupboard now, finding something in a heap of mangled papers.
In very beautiful and articulated handwriting, the sweet old lady starts making out the receipt. She charges ₹36 for the first book and ₹113 for the second. I feel bad about being irritated, when I realized what was going on. Such instances are good learning — of not succumbing to stereotypically thinking, every time we think we have met one. She was doing her job and she gave me the benefit. I would have never know that there was a discount. The list that she was going through, was a list of discounts on the books. 20% and 50% respectively.
She smiles, I hand over the money and thank her. In my head, I also apologize. I turn to the man who helped make all of this happen. I thank him; he thanks me in return. In the end, we are all happy. I leave the museum content, but something is bugging me.
* * *
The Government State Museum in Bangalore, charges ₹4 as entry fee. Half a cup of tea, or cutting chai, as we call it in dear old Mumbai, costs ₹6. It’s fair to say then, that the cost of seeing priceless and timeless pieces of art, history, and culture is less than half a cup of tea.
It’s not a very large museum, but the artefacts are very valuable, even if most of them are in a state of neglect and disrepair. As I walked along the exhibits, I wondered if it was for the lack of funds or the lack of enthusiasm and concern. It wasn’t very obvious to me what could be done if it was the latter. But if it was because of the lack of funds, there was an instant answer — increase the entry fee and don’t offer discounts on books! World over, many museums charge (often) exorbitant entry fees and then charge separately for certain exhibits. This, and other sales like books and souvenirs help them fund the upkeep, I’d imagine.
Instant answers, however are not always complete. This is a state museum running on public funds. Increasing fees or withdrawing discounts denies access to those who cannot afford it. And the inability to pay an entry fee can not be the reason you cannot view your heritage. It falls to us, then to buy books, and support our museums in whichever way we can.
Hereafter, I will stop taking discounts on books. And even if I am offered any, I’ll donate the difference to the museum.
And yet, this thought is incomplete. There’s more to this.