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Life/Recliner | Mar 4, 2013 | 8431 views

The Charming Museum of Thakur Amar Singh

Few associated the tough Rajput thakur with reading till Kanota’s Amar Singh, also an Imperial Cadet Corps general, established the region’s first library in 1878. Now, his personal collection of books and photographs enter the public domain
The Charming Museum of Thakur Amar Singh
Image: Amit Verma
CHRONICLED IN INK The 89 volumes of Amar Singh’s writings is the world’s longest diary

Curating History
Restored by Eka Archiving, the library is located over the taikhana (the underground apartment where residents took refuge during the hottest months), with the imposing facade of the 19th century Castle Kanota on the left. Astonishingly, Amar Singh never seems to have photographed his beloved library. The only visual reference the archivists found was a photograph taken in 1970 by a Mr Robin von Breton; the room was recreated after this fashion.

While every Rajasthan thikana has its collections of paintings and arms and some might have archives of manuscripts and documents, none has a library, indicating that bookish learning was not a priority for the erstwhile royals. The closest parallel to Amar Singh’s collections would possibly be the large country house libraries in the UK, typically built by generations of a family. Amar Singh’s library, on the other hand, is the work of one man. Besides the historical value, the library is a valuable resource as it includes first editions, out-of-print books and rare titles.

The museum is warm, welcoming, interactive and alive with an energy that, to me, seemed to be exuded by the books, maps, photographs and memorabilia. The laboratory at Mehrangarh Museum, Jodhpur, worked on conserving the photographs, albums and maps, carefully peeling photos off crumbling albums and mounting them afresh in the original sequence, and stabilising maps on acid-free backed mounts. The diaries are being similarly conserved in small batches. Since conservation and restoration are expensive, the Kanota family is looking to split the costs with the National Mission for Manuscripts. The books, luckily, are in a reasonably good condition.

“Getting a sense of the collection, its size and range, is the first challenge,” says Pramod Kumar AG of Eka Archiving, “and working out how to catalogue and classify it is the next. It’s important to keep storage concerns in mind. A collection spends most of its time that way, so it makes sense to document it in groups that will be viable to store. Size forms the basis of the groups or lots we make, but we allow for cross-referencing and thematic documentation. We use a simple but effective system of keywords for this. With a period library like this one, the books are treated as objects in a museum would be—since they won’t be circulated, as in a lending library—so we don’t use the Dewey decimal system, but accession numbers.”

Life and Style
To the left of the Period Room is the War Room, with a recreated version of the uniform worn by Amar Singh as part of Lord Curzon’s Imperial Cadet Corps. Old photographs provide a picture of the period’s military culture. Amar Singh and his circle at Jodhpur were fervent about polo and horseback riding. He stoked his enthusiasm with reading, eventually owning nearly 100 books on sport, hunting and animals, in addition to subscriptions to several magazines on the subject.

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 08 March, 2013
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Comments (2)
Col Raj Singh Bhown(retd) Apr 4, 2013
I started reading the diary of Gen Amar Singh as translated write ups in "Rajasthan Patrika" a local hindi daily. I have personally known the Kanota family being my fathers close friends. It makes very lucid reading specially to the student of military leadership and Rajputana heritage. at the earliest opportunity I will visit the museum and liberary at the castle..
Lloyd Rudolph Apr 4, 2013
Creating the Amar Singh Library and Museum depended on the prior publication in 2000 by Oxford University Press of Amar Singh's diary in REVERSING THE GAZE: AMAR SINGH'S DIARY, A COLONIAL SUBJECT'S NARRATIVE OF IMPERIAL INDIA, a book edited by his nephew and heir, the late Thakur of Kanota, Mohan Singh, in collaboration with the India scholars, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph.
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