Amid political turmoil and the widening fissures that have emerged as the elections draw closer, TV coverage of the inauguration of Pakistan’s first digital National History Museum (NHM) by the Punjab chief minister in Lahore came as a much-needed diversion.
Spread over an area of 35,000 square feet, the museum has been constructed as part of the Greater Iqbal Park – a flagship project launched by the government of Punjab in December 2016. The Greater Iqbal Park, spanning over an area of 125 acres, is situated near Badshahi Masjid, Lahore Fort and Minar-e-Pakistan. The project features many public attractions, including dancing fountains, soft wheel trains, buggy rides, and food courts. The design of the Greater Iqbal Park has been inspired by the Mughal architecture and executed through contemporary design strategies.
The NHM is a unique initiative through which people can explore and engage with Pakistan’s diverse history and culture. It is a public space for exploration, education and enjoyment where our ideology and struggle for Independence has been documented.
The museum is equipped with more than 8,700 digitised photographs; over 1,800 audio recordings; a cinema hall of history; the Quaid-e-Azam’s 3D holographic address; and a facility of travel through Pakistan’s history of Independence via VXR in a 1915 rail car.
There is also a facility to transfer digitised historical information to the laptops, smartphones and iPads of visitors. The digitally-mapped period doesn’t just extend from 1857 to 1947 but also cover the last 70 years since Independence. The history of Pakistan’s armed forces and key events in the sphere of literature and sports have also been put on display.
The NHM is designed as a journey through the history of Pakistan. It commemorates the major events leading to Partition. These include the Lahore Resolution; the Gandhi-Jinnah talks. Iqbal’s letters to the Quaid, which chronicle the journey towards creating Pakistan, have also been displayed. The prominent heroes of our nation; the formation of the first government of Pakistan; and the emergence of Pakistan’s unique identity through its popular culture and sports have been featured at the museum.
The artefacts displayed at the museum aren’t just mere objects. A quick glance at them takes people on a journey across the many eras that have shaped their history. These objects connect us with our forefathers whose hopes, aspirations, dreams and achievements that have inspired our nation through tumultuous periods of national existence.
The essential function of such museums is that they bring history to life. A visit to such sites is sufficient to change our perspective on life. They enrich our understanding and expand our horizon of thought.
Seeing something in person is quite different from seeing it in books or on computer screens. We continue to retain our impressions of things that we have had firsthand experience with. The real importance of the National History Museum lies in the fact that it is an agency that holds the cultural wealth of our country in trust for the future generations. Through its function and unique position, it will certainly become a cultural conscience of the nation.
The era that we are living in today is being shaped as much by material factors and the quest for political and economic supremacy as it is by the battle for cultural dominance. In an increasingly globalised world, nations are expanding their influence by investing in tools and processes that extend their cultural influence.
Cultural diplomacy has increasingly emerged as an essential part of a country’s overall diplomatic toolkit. As a result, soft power is the buzzword whereby countries invest their resources in projects that help it become memorable in the hearts and minds of people.
National pride has been identified as a main motivation that inspires people to attain the impossible by burning the proverbial midnight oil in their march towards achieving excellence. Human history bears witness to the fact that ideals of excellence and ideas of glory have led people to overcome daunting obstacles. An unflinching belief in the national purpose guides the conduct of a people as they endeavour to assert themselves.
When someone wants to rob you of your identity, he/she initially tries to create confusion about your roots. This is how rival nations operate at the international level. These elements use different ways to generate a controversy around the symbols, history and personages of the past. In order to achieve their nefarious designs, they target the youth by exploiting their lack of sufficient knowledge about their history and culture. In this day and age, when the whole world is just a click away, such attempts to dent the confidence of the youth on trumped-up debates and controversies have become even easier.
In such a milieu, the imperative of reviving our culture and sensitising our youth about its historical roots and identity becomes all the more essential and urgent. This explains why the National History Museum is so critical of our efforts to inculcate a sense of confidence and ownership of history among our people, especially the youth. We are living in an age that is defined by a frenzied battle of ideas and a the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. It is an age that has seen the upsurge of various narratives. Pakistan has also been experiencing a similar challenge.
The core function of cultural spaces such as the NHM is that they help dust off the long-forgotten narrative of Pakistan as an Islamic, moderate and democratic welfare state. The democratic struggle for Independence, which was launched by Muslims in the Subcontinent, is a fascinating story of how the combination of an excellent ideology; a credible leadership; and passion can defeat the mightiest of the forces and create a nation-state.
In the presence of the thoughts and ideals of Iqbal and the Quaid, we have a perfect ideology that has all the vital ingredients to inspire and motivate us to pursue larger national goals. The problems that we are facing today have surfaced because we have deviated from the path set for us by our founding leaders. The NHM is a space that will help form a nationalistic narrative of Pakistan by connecting our youth with our rich history and culture.
A wise man once said: “nations who remember their past and learn from it are never buried under the sands of time”. Let’s heed this lesson for the sake of our posterity. It is by exploring our past that we can create our future as there can be no future without understanding the past.