The art room at Elements.
The art room at Elements.

A National Museum adventure

Who said museum trips have to be boring for children? Props, workshops and ideas to explore, and create stories surrounded by historical objects

Imaginative children might currently find everything they need to go on a fantastical adventure at the Capital’s National Museum.

For quests on land, there are 18th century astrolabes for determining the latitude and local time as well as celestial spheres with gorgeous writing in brass on the first floor, in an exhibition called Art Of Calligraphy And Beyond: Arabic-Persian Inscription On Decorative Arts Objects, on till 12 July.

The show also has a mean pair of scissors and a “Talismanic Tunic" on display.

A little farther down the hall on the same floor is an experiential exhibition called Elements for children aged 6-12.

Organized by Kolkata-based Think Arts, which designs workshops and lecture demonstrations, along with the New Delhi-headquartered Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust, Elements invites children to take off their shoes and “walk into a cupboard".

But first, the children have to find the right door to enter the wardrobe from among a bunch of wrong ones that have strange, one-word descriptors. The “Taste" drawer, for example, has four bowls containing dry mango powder, among other things.

If you feel like you’ve stepped into a mash-up of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles Of Narnia and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland here, then the feeling is as accidental as Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world and Lucy Pevensie finding Narnia in the back of a wardrobe in Chronicles. “No, it’s not inspired by The Chronicles Of Narnia or Alice In Wonderland," says Think Arts founder Ruchira Das on phone. “At least not consciously."

Yet, if you want to channel your personal Lucy from Chronicles as you step through the black cupboard door at the show, what’s to stop you? Or if you feel like you’ve tumbled into Alice’s adventure through the network of tunnels, and the maze with its jigsaw puzzle, make-shift wind chimes and xylophone at the show, then that’s your choice too.

Better yet, make up your own stories as you walk through the texture gallery at Elements: the alternating soft (cotton, etc.) and pointy (floor mat, for example) or grainy (like sand) textures feel weird, in a giggle-inducing kind of way.

Elements is on till 5 July.

“Most children between 10 and 14 (years) love an adventure story," says Sukhesh Arora of New Delhi-based theatre group and workshops designer Yellowcat Theater.

Arora, who will conduct the second “History’s Mysteries" workshop at the museum from 19-28 June, in fact encourages participants to walk around the museum and make up backstories for the historical artefacts they find arresting. “You’d be surprised by the number of save-the-world stories we get," he says.

Registrations for his workshop are now closed, but Arora has tips for general visitors: Visit the gallery on the Harappan civilization (his favourite at the museum). See the Dancing Girl figurine. Notice how much smaller she is than the picture in your history textbook? Think about who made this 10.5cm sculpture? And for whom? Did someone pose for the sculpture?

If these question haven’t already fired up your imagination, walk into the heart of this gallery to creep up on the skeleton of a middle-aged woman from Rakhigarhi, in present-day Haryana. “What caught my attention is that all her teeth are intact," says Arora.

10am-5pm (Mondays closed). National Museum, Janpath (23792775). Tickets, 10 (Indians), 300 (foreigners, including audio tour fee), 5 for children, available at the venue. For details, visit www.nationalmuseumindia.gov.in

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