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While the soul lies in ruins


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Having visited renowned, ritzy museums across Europe, the National Museum of Pakistan came across, at first, as a misnomer of sorts.

The gate and ticket booth. -Photo by author

The external compound was full of yellowing grass and lonely trees, and was virtually empty of visitors.

A student practicing trigonometry in the garden. -Photo by author

The building itself was lit solely by sunlight from open windows and doors, resulting in a shadow-cast look of abandonment. The fans spun labouriously on the ceilings. That day, the “visitors” consisted entirely of me, a boy, his father, and two little girls.

Stairs leading up to the galleries. -Photo by author

A lone fan spins in one of the galleries. -Photo by author

The broken lift. -Photo by author

But beneath the outward appearance of neglect, the museum retains a quiet but genuine charm. The first employee I met was Abdul Rahman, a cleaning attendant who has kept the display glasses clear and the floors clean every morning for years.

Abdul Rahman, an attendant at the museum. -Photo by author

When I asked which gallery I should visit first, he launched into an enthusiastic report on all 11 galleries in his halting English (and occasional Urdu).

“We have a zig-zag gallery with the very very beautiful Qurans. And a coin gallery with the very very old coins …”

The museum windows are reflected off the display glass of an exhibit. -Photo by author

And fascinating exhibits they were, beautifully preserved within that derelict shell of a building. To maintain the conditions of these ancient curios, dedicated expertise is required, and people who value deeply the preservation of culture exist somewhere in this rickety gloom.

Fortunately I had the chance to meet some of the people responsible for keeping the core of the museum alive. Anwar Hussain Khan is the resident replica modeller, with his own cozy workshop in one of the dimly lit corners of the building.

A row of replicas in the modelling workshop. -Photo by author

Anwar Hussain Khan at his desk in the workshop. -Photo by author

The modelling workshop. -Photo by author

For the past 20 years, he has worked in the museum, and there is no place else he would rather be.

“I am happy to stay here. The museum gives me full support and promotes my work,” he said, and proceeded to give a breakdown on the intricacies of mould making. He specialises in oriental art, and has created replicas of everything from the Mohenjodaro “Priest-King” to the iconic Bodhisattva head.

The museum has a homely number of 120 employees, many of whom have known each other for years. Nazakat Ali, his father having worked here since his childhood, grew up in this family.

Nazakat Ali, a caretaker at the museum. -Photo by author

Since completing his education at 21, he has worked at the museum as a caretaker for nine years, while his father continues to work under the same roof as a driver. Ali expressed a simple sense of contentment.

“The environment is relaxed and I make friends here. There is noone new and I’m happy in that.”

There is an easy friendship among the employees. Though the day seems to move slower within the museum grounds, they keep to their duties in comfortable silence, with the occasional chit chat.

Nazir Ahmed holding on to prayer beads while watching over the coins gallery. -Photo by author

Two employees enjoying a meal cooked by their wives at lunch break. -Photo by author

Despite the stark sparseness of the place, the museum humbly houses an intriguing assortment of artifacts that kept me engaged for a good few hours. For all its soul and heart, this museum deserves more visitors than just the occasional schoolchildren.

The writer is an intern at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Ayesha Mar 09, 2012 09:50pm
Pakistanis need to understand the fact that civilization existed there before Mohammed Bin Qasim attacked in the 6th century...They have the oldest city-Mohenjodaro,Harappa...Oldest university in Taxila...beautiful mountain ranges... They need to project the richness of Pakistan to the world and attract tourists...I've seen many posters of "Incredible India" in NY subway stations showing the Jaisalmer Fort,Benaras,TajMahal.... If they can awaken the ancient history...They can reap benefit from the tourism industry which will directly and indirectly provide employment for their youth
S. F. A Mar 10, 2012 01:13am
Thank you! I wish I could see these photographs in color.
Naeem Husain Mar 10, 2012 02:40am
Good to know that museums in Pakistan are worth seeing. Photograps shows interesting antique items. Thanks to the intern reporter Tang Hui Hang for choosing a wonderful topic and hope the world will realize that there are millions of good thing in Pakistan to see. Thing like this would help change the bad image one day. Keep up the good work!
munnaprasad Mar 10, 2012 02:59am
I would like to buy some of the models including seals. Could some one please help me as to who should I contact. Good cultural article. Keep it up. Cheers.
Dr. Behrouz Hashim Mar 10, 2012 07:50am
TANG HUI HUAN lovely article and photographs were enchanting. Yes I totally agree with what she wrote and photographed. I have been to this lovely museum more than 20 times, it is a lovely "Hidden Treasure". Every time I had a visitor from outside Pakistan (more than 20 nationalities) I made sure they they saw our wonderful heritage. Thank you DAWN for sharing this with us. May be you could show this on Dawn TV, so that the rest of beautiful Pakistanis could see it in URDU. A VERY BIG THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN
Nasah (USA) Mar 10, 2012 08:03am
Pakistan has no past so why bother. "Qadr-e gauhar shah danud ya budanud johree" -- Pakistan is neither.
atul Mar 10, 2012 08:30am
Nitin (Mumbai) Mar 10, 2012 11:04am
I hope Pakistan will preserve its glorious Buddhist history and will not let the Buddhist artifacts in Peshawar Museum fall prey to Taliban or other fundamentalist groups.
pervin Nasir Mar 10, 2012 12:47pm
You may buy replicas of seals and Buddha relics from the booking office the N.M.P at the main gate
Pitambara Mishra Mar 10, 2012 01:40pm
It is a praiseworthy effort by govt of Pakistan to preserve their heritage. This news is like a silver lining on dark cloud. I request Dawn to publish more such news.
Vetrimagal Mar 10, 2012 02:06pm
Beautiful pictures. Nice to read about Pakistan's museum. Thanks.
Malay Mar 10, 2012 02:16pm
MS. Ayesha, that is the difference between India & Pakistan. India is proud of her past, be it Hindu, Buddhist, Mogal, Phatan even British. They preserved them with utmost respect and honor. This ancient treasures which we are having, (Both India & Pakistan) has been painstakingly re-discovered by the British in both Pakistan. India preserved them with pride. Pakistan wants to forget them as bad dream. Because Pakistan have no past, they have just started in 1947. It was also desirable that the writer should give some photos of the displayed art craft.
Keshav Mar 10, 2012 09:41pm
We Punjabis are more tummy /food/ parantha/kabab people than serious historians or art lovers. History for us probably is mohalla gossip and art is no better than the nail polish and the color of then curtains and the shade of the walls. Even Chandigarh Museum in India which has a good collection of Ghandara/Mathura sculptures and number of mughal/kangra/sikh painitings is not a very popular place. I guess any chaat papri shop gets more visitors than the museums.
Sangeeta sharma Mar 11, 2012 08:45am
There are no photos of the there a website of National museum of Pakistan.
Rao Mar 11, 2012 02:43pm
That seems to be the problem with many countries with Islam as official religion. It seems Malaysian history starts when their Muslim Sultans started ruling...they do not want to talk about their tribal origins, Buddhist & Hindu past. Saudi Arabia didn't give permission to American archeologists who wanted to excavate some prominent mounds in the deserts of the country, lest everyone know of their past social history prior to Islam.
K.M.Khan Mar 14, 2012 02:09pm
Hello Mr.Munnaparsad, a friend of mine had many artifacts like budha statues & coins in personal collection, willing to sell some, if interested, plz contact on email: regards
Aziz Mar 15, 2012 05:38pm
Nice read. It's great!
Anum AFZAL Mar 17, 2012 06:23pm
nice work
Shahji Apr 06, 2012 11:31pm
yeah right, Moenjodaro along river Indius in Pakistan has a history going back to one of the earliest civilization on the planet on par with the Nile and Eupharates, you should really pick up a book.
Shahji Apr 06, 2012 11:23pm
Another institution destroyed by neglect, Pakistan has been steadily going backwards thanks to an inferior breed of leadership with every change. The slide downwards began when Ayub Khan gave up office and nose dived when the arrogant Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over, that was the real tragedy of Pakistan....the PPP.