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


Always heritage walking, come rain or storm!

Mumbai, hot, humid and sweaty, has been waiting breathlessly for some real rain. And really rain it finally did, yesterday during my heritage walk through Bandra’s past, present and future. The walk was fully booked and it was such a pleasure to have a large group of enthusiastic and willing participants, who continued walking despite being down-poured upon once, twice, then again and again! Here are just a few images, courtesy walk collaborator Mumbai Riders.

Bring your umbrella and boots and join us, next time?:)


Project Diary: Getting hands-on with exhibition making

In the few weeks since my last post, the final year History students from St. Xavier’s and I been busy visiting a diverse range of exhibition spaces and types in Mumbai – from the large, public Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, which curates and showcases contemporary art for all alongside a historic collection, to the community focused Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Goregaon, Tarq at the cutting edge of the contemporary art gallery space and the new Piramal Museum of Art, housed, excitingly, within a corporate office building. We were incredibly fortunate to meet several young professionals at many of these museums and galleries, people in diverse roles who generously and honestly shared their experiences, roles, views and advice with the students.

These visits were followed by an in-depth presentation and interaction with one of the city’s leading young exhibition designers. In each of these conversations we kept circling back to what is perhaps the most crucial element in exhibition thinking and building – the audience!

Armed with new learnings and ideas, the class and I held a workshop session during which we highlighted the diverse roles and players required to team-build a successful exhibition, matching students to those roles based on their strengths and interests. Each student will be performing a minimum of two roles. In groups, students are now working under research leads to build the content that will help define the exhibition’s storylines in the next phase.

Next week, we meet the collector and scholar whose stamp collection they will be displaying, and hopefully we will have tons of questions for him:)

I’d like end this update with a shout out to the Department of History faculty and Principal of St. Xavier’s College, for their incredible support and encouragement of this intensive, student-led learning project. We need more educators like them.

Project Diary: Introduction & Getting Started

I’m thrilled to be working with final year students of the Department of History at St. Xavier’s College on an exhibition making project this semester. Follow along as I detail our progress!

Conceptualised in consultation with faculty of the Department of History, this project aims to provide final year students with the opportunity to get hands-on with the theories and practice of exhibition making – more on what they will be showing later!:) The project plan builds upon and augments the syllabus of the final year paper on Museum Studies, which is an essential requirement for a History Major.

We begin with a series of class visits to diverse exhibition styles and spaces in the city. As in all my student focused work, participants will be encouraged to look closely and critically at museum collections, their role and function, display, interpretive media, publicity, audiences (both actual and potential, on site and online); they will consider both success stories and ways in which museums can and should increase their value and relevance in today’s digital, busy society, market themselves more effectively and build larger, participatory communities. The aim is to equip the students with the ideas, frameworks and skills to build an exhibition that is rigorous in research, engaging, inclusive, welcoming in interpretive plan and design, well publicized and attended.

Our first visit took us close to home, to the museum of the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, which the students are lucky to have access to right on the St. Xavier’s campus. The choice of first visit was deliberate – aimed to ease the class into critically considering the art and science of display. They were asked to consider not only what was on display, but how it was displayed. The good, the bad, the ugly, the missing. Post visit, we made our way to the college ‘woods’ for an open-air discussion where the students shared their preliminary responses. They went away to further reflect on and write about their visit.

Our next session will encourage a deeper critique moving beyond visual display to consider interpretation, media, audiences and more. In fact, the students’ visit to the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum begins virtually, and continues on site on Saturday.



(Back to) School Special: Seeking history in museums & heritage spaces

It’s the start of a new academic year, and we’ve been busy planning an exciting range of curriculum-focused sessions especially for school groups in the city, aimed at deepening engagement with history and all things heritage!

For young learners, we believe that getting up close and spending time with museum collections and art and heritage resources can provoke critical and creative thinking, inspire new questions and ideas, highlight fresh connections with the world, the other, and links across time and space. Not least, such engagement can trigger joy, inspiration and imagination.

With this in mind, our museum visits and heritage walk routes are conceptualised and curated to meet the specific learning needs of individual schools in Mumbai. Where possible and desired, our programmes are aligned to the school’s academic curriculum. Each visit is interpretive and facilitated in an interactive manner, responding to the age, needs and knowledge levels of the participating class. In session, students are encouraged to look closely, notice the details and features through which objects, artworks and buildings speak to us, explore wider stories and contexts, and, using their critical thinking and reasoning skills, build on prior knowledge gained through classroom study. The aim, ultimately, is to build a memorable, joyful and first-hand experience of the past.

To work with us to build the right programme for your students, or for more information, please email Alisha Sadikot at


Calendar: Heritage Walks in June

The monsoon might just be my favourite time to (heritage) walk in Mumbai! The weather is lovely, and the streets empty. All you really need to enjoy yourself is an umbrella, and a great pair of stomping shoes:) For those of you who agree (or even those that need convincing!) please find below a list of walk events in June.
Fort Stories: A walking tour
Sunday, June 4, 2017
9 – 11:30 am
Explore Mumbai’s most iconic neighbourhood on a walking tour that spotlights it’s hidden histories – the stories that lie behind, around, and within, the buildings, streets and spaces so familiar today. We walk back through the area’s earliest history as a lonely island acquired by the traders of the East India Co., and follow its journey from a struggling fortified town into a crowded, cosmopolitan, trading centre, then to its place at the heart of 19th century developments that transformed Bombay into British India’s ‘first city’, and, finally, to area’s unique post-independence challenges and changes in identity.
Route: Gateway of India precinct – Regal Circle – Kala Ghoda – Oval Maidan.
Byculla’s Hidden Histories: A walk back in time
Saturday, June 17, 2017
9 – 11 am
Once a low lying swamp submerged by every high tide, Byculla benefitted from crucial reclamation work and grew into a rich residential suburb in the early 19th century, attracting the most affluent of Bombay’s citizens and its most sophisticated infrastructure – including its very first museum! In the latter 1800’s, the building of the mills and workers’ housing transformed the character and face of the neighbourhood. The Bombay Plague of the 1890’s left its mark on Byculla permanently and brought a tumultuous century to its close. The next century brought even more upheaval.
To walk through Byculla today is to be in two places at once – Mumbai in its past, and in its future. By focusing on Byculla’s physical spaces and unique contemporary character, this walk encourages an exploration of the city’s complex histories, its present moment and potential futures.
Bombay meets the World at Ballard Estate
Sunday, June 18, 2017
8 – 10 am
A walk through Ballard Estate, with its wide, tree-lined streets and elegant European architecture, will transport you to early 20th century Bombay, to a port city that stood at the centre of a map dominated by sea trade and travel, and at the brink of modern living. From war, trade and shipping to train travel, migration, hotels and public dining, this walk will highlight remarkable, hidden connections between Bombay and the world.
Museum Memories: A tour of the BDL Museum, Byculla
Sunday, June 25, 2017
10 am – 12 pm
Established in the mid-19th century as the Victoria & Albert Museum, Bombay, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad (BDL) Museum in Byculla is Mumbai’s oldest museum and, recently, its greatest heritage conservation success story. Join us on an insider’s exploration of the Museum building, collections and histories. From fine and decorative arts that spotlight craftsmanship, change and international trade through the latter 1800’s to miniature clay models, dioramas and maps which illustrate life, culture and politics in 20th century Mumbai, the Museum’s stunning Victorian home holds complex and layered memories waiting to be unraveled.
Thank you.


I had such a great time last Saturday on a walk through Ballard Estate’s histories, conducted in collaboration with Art Deco Mumbai for Conde Nast Traveller India. For some of Ballard Estate’s best kept secrets please read a summary of the walk here!

c. Conde Nast Traveller India / @Makkeshbhai