February 05, 2014 00:00
By Doreen Fiedler
Mumbai's new airport terminal is home to a 3-kilometre long art exhibition
Travellers who pass through the new T2 terminal building at Mumbai Airport can pass the time waiting for their flight by viewing an art exhibition. The admission price is a mere flash of a plane ticket and the new art museum is so enthralling that you need to be careful you don’t miss your flight altogether.
The art show stretches some 3 kilometres along the elegantly curving walls of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Modern art is at home here alongside 1,000-year-old artefacts from all around India.
Artfully carved window frames from Rajasthan and wooden temple carts are among the items, as well as terra cotta horses, totem figurines, masks and statues of gods.
Even before the museum was officially opened, the premier of the state of Jammu and Kashmir excitedly twittered a picture of a wall made of hand-painted papier mache, a 400-year-old tradition in his Himalayan region.
The painting depicts mosques with their pointed roofs in the style typical of the region, colourful houses, and houseboats, which are a favourite of today's tourists visiting Dal Lake.
The special museum, with its 7,000 artworks, is not only the largest in India, but it also could soon become the most-visited one anywhere in the world. This is because up to 40 million passengers will be passing through the terminal annually.
By comparison, the Louvre counts 10 million visitors annually, and the British Museum fewer than 6 million. There is an art exhibition at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, but it consists of just 10 works of art displayed in a special room.
In Mumbai, by contrast, the walls are painted up to 18 metres high and can be seen from every floor of the terminal.
“We have divided the museum up into 28 sections, each one managed by its own curator," says an airport spokesman.
One section shows everyday life in Mumbai with scenes from Bollywood films and from the world of finance. Among other items, there is a detailed map of the port city made of the circuit boards of old computers.
The historical display items were gathered from cities, villages, private collections and museums around the country.
“Many objects, like the 19-century wooden totems from Morung in Nagaland needed restoration.
“One had a thriving ecosystem of insects and worms inside it. All the finds have been catalogued, their provenance established and currently they are in the process of being registered with the Archaeological Survey of India,” one art expert told the Times of India.
The new terminal, built in the shape of a strutting peacock, contrasts starkly with the often pothole-ridden, dusty roads and slow trains of India's transportation infrastructure.
“The infrastructure deficit is considered a serious constraint limiting our rate of economic growth," Premier Manmohan Singh remarked at the terminal's inauguration. "We need to work doubly hard to bridge this gap.”
This made him all the prouder of the modern design and comforts –including for people in wheelchairs – found in the new building. Such things are not something taken for granted on the Asian subcontinent.
Air travellers are handled via 188 check-in counters and 136 immigration and emigration posts.
Those who are not in the mood for art may simply pass the time with free Internet access made available in every waiting area. In addition, there are shops covering 21,000 square metres as well as restaurants serving up both local dishes and international cuisine.
But often, it is hardly possible to escape all the art, since even the carpeting is decorated with peacock feathers, while modern paintings line the walls running alongside the passenger conveyor belts.
"T2 is one airport which I wouldn't mind being stranded in – like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’,” confides Anand Mahindra, chief of the Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra.
“By comparison, every other airport in the world seems banal and bland.”