The other Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Hoping low-key Mukherjee treats us to many more experiential exhibits

I am Sabyasachi Mukherjee, not to be confused with my namesake, the celebrated fashion couturier,” declared the venerated director-general of Mumbai’s pride, George Wittet’s Indo-Saracenic jewel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum. The supremely swish, fashion-forward invitees to a very special event on the lawns of the museum tittered politely and giggled as the charming middle-aged man spoke on. Most of them had zero idea about this other ‘Sabyasachi’. It was, after all, a fashion event titled, Legacy of Deft Hands, celebrating India’s artisanal heritage.

The over-modest and highly refined Mukherjee, dressed in a well-cut formal suit, provided a succinct introduction to the spectacular fashion walk, as top models circled the impressive statue of King George V. It was a first visit to Mumbai’s historic landmark for this chichi Gucci-Chanel set.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee Sabyasachi Mukherjee

As director-general of one of the premier art and history museums in Asia, Mukherjee heads a dedicated team of the museum that houses priceless treasures inside the awe-inspiring grade one heritage building, which celebrated its centennial in 2022. His style is “people-oriented’’, and despite formidable scholarship in his chosen field, the soft-spoken gentleman retains his genial aura without overwhelming eager visitors flocking to his beloved museum, where he has held sway since his appointment in 2007.

He delivered a charming speech after he was elected, as an honorary member, to the two-century-old American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He disarmingly stated, “I never dreamed of being recognised and honoured by such a prestigious institution of remarkable minds.” Considering the Academy was founded by the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Benjamin Franklin, this befitting honour was an apt and timely recognition of Mukherjee’s considerable achievements.

As a fairly regular to the museum since my growing years, I have observed its remarkable evolution from a musty, dusty place that attracted sullen-faced school kids on a mandatory museum trip, to what it is today—a vibrant, buzzing complex that attracts scholars from across the world, along with enthusiastic locals, who take in the newest exhibits, shop at the well-curated museum store which offers great, well-priced, sophisticated gifts, to students who opt for a postgraduate diploma course in museology and art conservation with Mukherjee himself as director. Who could ask for a better guru? With the addition of a children’s museum and new galleries, the familiar old space has been transformed into a modern, lively cultural hub with exciting, interactive activities that have seen a dramatic rise in footfalls.

When I met Mukherjee at the special fashion show evening, I was initially blinded! Of course, by his brilliance, but on a more mundane note, by the bright lights shining into my eyes. Surrounded by beautiful installations and inspired by the invaluable weaves on display from the Sangrahalaya’s textile gallery, it was difficult to focus. We chatted briefly, as art gallery aficionados, collectors and historians waited to meet the host.

Legacy of Deft Hands was a triumph. Befittingly, the corner reserved for Ikat weavers working on looms saw interested invitees stopping to exchange a few words with our wonderful crafts community, quietly but surely placing India on the global map. Here’s hoping the low-key director-general treats us to many more experiential exhibits that engage, inform and enchant. The Sangrahalaya has shown us how!

@DeShobhaa @shobhaade