MARITIME MUSEUM for Mumbai is an IDEA whose time has come

Most maritime museums are located where there is a rich tapestry of trade, commerce, naval history and tradition associated with economic, marine and ecological wellbeing. Or just plain foreign conquests.

It is odd that a country, with more than 7000 kms of coastline, whose kings had naval ships, was colonized from the seas and despite more than 200 plus notified and 12 major ports (all of which are responsible for more than 95% of India's trade by volume, and 70% by value), has no Indian Maritime museum which makes it to the leaderboard of maritime museums of the World.


Which clearly signals something is wrong.


India has always had a rich maritime history. From Greek navigator Pliny (100 A.D.) who mapped ports in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. To Kalidasa (450 A.D.) who described navigational landmarks and directions around the entire coast of India in his Sanskrit poem Mughaduta. 


Fast forward to 1700 AD (just a few hundred years back!) when India was the world’s economic engine contributing 25% of the global economy. Then came the British, French, and Dutch, Portuguese and others and the birth of navies - of the Maratha particularly Kanoji Angre the great Maratha Admiral. Prior to them were the Cholas, Zamorins, Pallavas, and Mauryas amongst others.


With booming maritime and coastal economic activity came the need for protecting shipping lanes, ports and cargo. And protection and movement of people and communities.  


Mumbai however has a rich tradition of sea trade, commerce, ship building, naval history and presence. It straddles a huge geo-strategic role as gateway to the east - and to the Sub continent.


The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) provides the most opportune location for setting up such a world class maritime museum with the planned freeing up of the Eastern Seaboard of the Mumbai Portlands covering 900 hectares. This space   dwarfs London’s Canary Wharf 40 hectares, Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) with 45 hectares and Singapore's CBD 184 hectares.


But the latter three contribute several US$ 100s billions to local GDPs just by themselves. Far surpassing by many miles what the Mumbai Port Trust individually contributes to the Mumbai and Maharashtra economy.


If Maharashtra yearns to become a US $ 1 trillion dollar economy in another six years as its Chief Minister desires then Mumbai City perforce must continue to contribute up to half of that (it currently contributes around half). And the only way for that to happen will be when the Portland’s itself contributes 20%.


But for an average citizen what does a maritime museum actually signify? In one sentence, it   depicts the past while celebrating the present.


The means that a  museum has at its disposal an ability to capture this unique relationship by way of artefacts, art, exhibits, archives, documents, navigational aids & methods, stories, maps, local narrative, relics. It has to be ‘inside out' (e.g. the Portsmouth Tudor ship)  in its capture of history, context, connections and relevance as it must be 'top down' in what to depict, how to depict -  the design and architectural geometry (e.g. the Oceanographic Museum of Monte Carlo's stone facade, with frieze of  famous  research vessels).  Not to forget the impression it wants to leave in the sands of time and mass consciousness.


A Mumbai Maritime Museum could have its work fairly well cut out.


It has to be about India's rich ship building (and ship breaking) tradition that goes back nearly 300 years. As about trade & commerce. As much about water transportation & navigation between the seven islands, and the mainland. As about Navies of ancient India and invading ones. As much about lighthouses, piracy, forts as about sailing boats, sea cadet corps and Merchant marine training.


But most importantly it is about the diaspora of local peoples intermixing with people from all parts of the world and length and breadth of India. The cultures, sight, sounds, touch, tastes that they bought to Bombay to give it its intrinsic character and energy. And which makes it amongst the top bustling cosmopolitan cities of the World. 


The city that never sleeps. The New York of the East.


Author is a serial tech entrepreneur, trustee, commentator on public policy and FinTech. He is an independent director on the board of Nazara Technologies. And co-founder and promoter of Paymate - India's largest Business Payments Co.


Also read

1 Kanohji Angre: India’s first Naval Commander

2 A 1971 Naval Hero of Bangladesh War fades away – Operation NCO(X)

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