It’s all in the packaging at this Bangalore museum

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Make time for this unusual and interesting museum

Make time for this unusual and interesting museum

In the hands of generations past that ail from what we disparagingly call a ‘refugee mentality’, junk finds opportune reuse. My grandmother collects buttons like a bowerbird and stores them in old biscuit tins. Ornate liquor bottles, after they have served their bacchanalian destiny, are either given pride of place in the showcase or filled up with water and used as decorative planters. Old pillowcases become ragdolls. Toothpaste tube caps strung with wire become interesting toys. Born eighty years years too soon, she might well have been one of the Instagram stars you and I secretly follow.

I like to imagine some of that has rubbed off on me. I hoard everything from old coins in old cigarette boxes, seashells and pebbles and fossils, to ancient magazines (the entire editorial boards of which now convene in hell). My wife periodically gets into spring-cleaning mode and, with artful coercion, reduces my stash to a third of its volume. It doesn’t take long for make up for the deficit. The junk accumulates, it is cleaned out, and the karmic cycle continues.

Seen an old valve radio like this one? It works

Seen an old valve radio like this one? It works

There’s a difference, though, between a hoarder and a connoisseur of junk. What I lack, I discovered recently, is a method to my madness. The drive to identify, catalogue and document every collected article and accord it pride of place, give it context and relevance so that it ceases to become junk but an artefact. It’s the passion to transform a random collection of objects and turn it into something more.

A treasure of old bottles. Empty, sadly

A treasure of old bottles. Empty, sadly

A museum.

Bangalore’s industrial suburb of Electronics City is the last place where you’d expect to run into a museum. And not, predictably, a museum of information technology (of which kind, shamefully, there isn’t one). This is a museum of — how shall we put it with dignity? — junk.

In this city starved of state-run museums, the ominously changing skyline is reflective of what its citizens want. Bangalore’s new abutments — software and technology parks — are its new monuments and landmarks. Vanishing along with old buildings and old lifestyles is a treasure trove of old memories. Bangaloreans appear to be in a hurry to erase and build over their city’s heritage. Parks, community halls and auditoria have yielded to an infestation of malls and multiplexes that, come the weekend, clog up the potholed roads with restless, honking traffic. And not for those reasons alone, museum hopping isn’t the first travel idea that might pop into the heads of residents and tourists trying to make a weekend of it in what has now become a pale shadow of a Garden City. Footfalls to the landmark Government Museum on Kasturba Road have dropped alarmingly over the decades while the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, once the cynosure of the engineering and innovation culture that Bangalore embodied, is only marginally better off. 

Vimal Kedia turned his passion for packaging into a museum

Vimal Kedia turned his passion for packaging into a museum

The Packaging Heritage Museum will get you thinking differently about junk.  And it’s surprising that you haven’t heard of it already, because Vimal Kedia established it in 2003 and it has entered the Limca Book of Records for being one of its kind in India.

Kedia isn’t your ordinary collector of bric-à-brac. Packaging has been his passion for more than three decades. He is the much-awarded Managing Director of Manjushree Technopack Ltd, a 361-crore company you may not know of but whose touch you have doubtless felt every day of your life. The soft drink bottle you just drained, the ketchup you squeezed over your takeout pizza, the antacid tablet you punched out of its blister pack to negate their ill effects – his family-run business, the largest PET bottle and preform manufacturing company in Asia, makes the packaging for all of them.

These days, after a product is consumed, consumers pay little attention to its packaging, Kedia told me as he showed me around his small but absorbing museum packed with over 250 items of display. Yet, he added, research suggests that packaging strongly influences our buying decisions. Not surprising, then, that some of us avid junk collectors hang on to matchboxes and cutlery, but our fascination usually ends there. 

Housed in a small space, the museum seems ready for a move

Housed in a small space, the museum seems ready for a move

In packaging Kedia saw not just a treasure of memory and old times repackaged. A collector of antiques since his childhood, he saw in it a journey, an evolution of an industry, a resource to aid packaging professionals to develop designs based on a sense of history and purpose.

You can see, for instance, the material shift from wicker and wood to metal, then glass, paper, cardboard and finally the gamut of ubiquitous plastic containers in use today. You can learn why fine liquor and perfume bottles were made heavy – heavy equals premium – and why those with nozzle sprays were more expensive to produce until Chinese manufacturing levelled the playing field. There are vanity kits, gramophone record cases, lab tools and cutlery in ornate velvet casing, travelling cases for guitars and violins, velvet-lined scabbards, baby formula tins, valve radios, even an old metal gun case from the era of Tipu Sultan. There’s even a vintage telephone straight out of a 1930s movie, with a rotary dial and separate earpiece and mouthpiece. And it actually works.

Kedia collected his exhibits from all over the country, trawling old warehouses and shops. Smaller towns, he says, were the best places to find these old articles and remote outposts in Assam contributed a great many treasures to his collection. On learning of his passion, guests and visitors from overseas chipped in with an article or three.

The sight of brands long consigned to memory – like Binaca and Amulspray and Agfa cameras – start playing back time as you stroll around. The museum is modest, with the air of a makeshift shelter dreaming of something bigger. More work needs to be done, Kedia says, pausing here to dust his exhibits lovingly, or there to bark a reprimand to an underling who has neglected to do so. There will be placards and informative plaques soon, he says, adding that the museum will soon move to a dedicated building.

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

Upstairs from the museum is a library of packaging, interesting in itself for it doesn’t stock a single book. But there are shelves and shelves of bottles and tubes of every description, of brands familiar and unknown from all over the world. This is a reference resource for packaging professionals such as product designers, brand managers of FMCG companies and visual merchandisers.

The weekend is coming up. How about spending an afternoon changing your perception of junk? The junk food can wait. And if you have a grandmother like mine, take her there.

A gun case from the era of Tipu Sultan

A gun case from the era of Tipu Sultan

Plan a visit

Manjushree Heritage Museum of Packaging & Design | Manjushree Technopack Ltd, Unit I, 143, C-5, Bommasandra Industrial Area | Hosur Road, Bangalore – 560 099 (next to Hotel e-Inn)

Open to public viewing on Saturdays between 2 pm and 5 pm. Email Ms Theresa on theresa@manjushreeindia.com for details

This article first appeared on Yahoo India

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