Leading science museum professionals and science communicators from across the world, including Israeli Moshe Rispon, American Marilyn Hoyt and German Hans Martin Hinz, feel Kolkata that has been home to legendary scientists like Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha and Satyen Bose should be celebrated for catalysing the science museum and science centre movements in India.
It was Bengal’s second CM Bidhan Chandra Roy and city-based industrialist G D Birla who had joined hands to set up the Birla Industrial & Technological Museum (BITM). A decade later, Jadavpur University alumni and ex-president of International Council of Museums (ICOM) Saroj Ghose and his classmate Rathindra Mohan Chakraborty played a key role in setting up a science centre. Ghose later went on to establish the first science city in Kolkata.
BC Roy’s exposure to Deutsche Museum in Munich and Science Museum in London led him to request GD Birla to help set up a science museum in Kolkata. The Birla family that then resided in the mansion where BITM is now housed, was already planning to shift to a sprawling bungalow complex next door on Gurusaday Dutta Road. The Birla patriarch donated the mansion to the government of India to set up BITM. It was then handed over to the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research that set up the museum in 1959. The Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum (VITM) was donated by industrialists in Bengaluru in 1965.
“At the time BC Roy conceived a science museum, there were no experts in the field. So he brought in Amalendu Basu, a patents examiner at the Kolkata office who used to study scientific inventions while scrutinizing patent applications, as the planning officer. Basu got hold of catalogues from the few science museums that were there around the world. He then recruited me, a 22-year-old fresh JU graduate, in 1958. He also recruited a couple of retired people. A year later, this team set up BITM with seven galleries. India’s scientific research and cultural affairs minister then was Humayun Kabir, also from Bengal,” recalled Ghose, who is called the father of the science centre movement in India.
While there were only science museums at the time, the big change happened in 1968-69 when the Exploratorium opened in San Francisco, followed by the Toronto Centennial Science Centre (TCSC), later renamed Ontario Science Centre. From display of scientific objects and historical artefact, they ushered in the concept of education-based centres where one could carry out open experiments. In 1970, Ghose went for doctoral thesis to the Smithsonian institutions in Washington DC and would travel to the Exploratorium whenever he got an opportunity. Around the same time, Ghose’s class-friend RM Chakraborty who was in charge of VITM received a scholarship to go to Ontario for nine months and he spent time at TCSC.
“Both of us were tremendously excited about the prospect of how science could connect with the masses. So when an opportunity arose in 1978 to set up a large museum in Mumbai, we decided it would be an experimental and educational science centre. That is how the Nehru Science Centre came into being,” recounted Ghose. Nearly 50 science centres have been set up since.
At the same time, the government also decided to set up an umbrella organisation for science museums and centres in the country. Amalendu Basu, BITM former director Samar Bagchi and Ghose then came up with the name National Council of Science Museums (NCSM).
Source: Times of India