Mumbai’s Hidden Museums – #1

Love museums? Regularly haunt the encyclopaedic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum) in Kala Ghoda? Spend your weekends at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla? We’ve probably met. Recently, in a quest to spread my museum wings, I stepped out of my cultural comfort zones in search of ‘hidden’ museum collections in the city. Bite-sized they might be, but these museums can take you places! 

Haffkine’s Institute Museum 

0486Did you know that the first successful vaccine against the horrific bubonic plague was created in Mumbai? In an environment of panic and fear during the last plague epidemic in the city in the 1890’s – which, at its peak, killed almost 2000 people every week – Ukrainian bacteriologist Waldemar M. Haffkine worked tirelessly in room 000 in Grant Medical College to produce a vaccine using clarified butter (ghee). Before conducting any human trials, Haffkine tested the vaccine on himself. Once proved harmless, it was tested on volunteers at the Byculla Jail, after which large scale public inoculations began. In 1899, Haffkine, now Director in Chief of the Plague Research Laboratory, moved into the former Governor’s mansion at Parel to scale production of the vaccine. For about 30 years or so, Haffkine’s vaccine would be used against the disease the world over.

Today, the Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing houses a recently refurbished museum on campus which showcases both the earlier history of the building, as the home of colonial Bombay’s first citizen, and its special place in the sphere of scientific discovery, innovation and learning. My personal highlights included the Haffkine Flask, specially designed by Haffkine to grow cultures of the plague bacteria and a series of striking photographs that take you back to the struggle to rid Bombay of the plague. Science and art merge in almost ethereal fibreglass sculptures of enlarged forms of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Rabies and E. Coli amongst others. For those with stronger stomachs, the museum is best known for its collection of snake skeletons and wet specimens. And, if that wasn’t enough to get you to visit, you can even clone your own sheep! Don’t believe me? Go find out.

To make an appointment to visit, contact training@haffkineinstitute.org.

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