Tag Archives: Transportation

Driving passion

Three transport museums light up the road ahead ♦

This article is part of a longer story on Delhi’s museums.

coolie cycle

From the Heritage Transport Museum’s collection

The words “Guggenheim”and “Gurgaon” have rarely, if ever, been uttered in the same breath. Yet Vikas Harish had the audacity to refer to the New York landmark as he talked about an upcoming suburban museum. It was no idle boast. Harish, a museologist and the curator of the staggering 85,000-square-foot Heritage Transport Museum, described how a Lloyd Wright-inspired system of ramps and atria will create interior vistas across its four levels.

The museum is one of three projects driven by car-mad Delhi collectors, who are racing to move their antique vehicles out of the garage and into curated museums, parking them within the context of India’s history.

The first to rev up was Diljeet Titus’ Pro Bono Publico Museum for Vintage and Classic Cars, most of which were formerly owned by royalty. It’s currently in the shop for a major overhaul, but Titus hopes to reopen the place to visitors, by appointment, next March. In keeping with the princely nature of his collection, his museum will be set up like “a giant 25,000 square-foot drawing room,” he said, with antique carpets and cars, palms, and Oslo chandeliers. “The effect is of a 1930s-’40s showroom,” the way cars were typically displayed at Western motor shows at the height of Art Deco style. “I’m not using any technology or electronic gimmickry,” Titus said.

Pro Bono Publico is geared towards serious enth­usiasts; every vehicle will have supporting photographs or artefacts that belonged to its first owner. Titus explained, “I’m trying to show that these cars have documented provenance.” In Delhi, it’s a small miracle to hear the word “provenance” matched with “museum”.


At Sandeep Katari’s museum

Three months ago, restorer and collector Sandeep Katari opened up a little labour of love in Jaunapur Village. Katari sold his accessories shop to fund his museum. “I couldn’t afford a fancy place,” he said. “I want to show that you don’t have to be super-loaded to do something like this slowly. It takes time – and getting used to abuses from your family – but it should not deter you from doing it on a small scale.” Katari has an abundance of secondary sources: memorabilia, posters, photos. His museum is a small but tantalising appetiser before the big event: the Heritage Transport Museum, slated to open near Manesar by December.

Time Out first spoke to Tarun Thakral, an obsessive collector who also happens to be COO of Le Meridien, in February of 2009. He was just beginning to institutionalise his private collection, which includes palanquins, antique autos and a royal rail saloon. At the time, he said it would be ready in nine months.

Three years later – and with nearly ten crores of Ministry of Culture funding, private donations and sponsorship – Thakral’s vision for the Heritage Transport Museum has grown to incredible scale. It promises to be a deluge of immersive audio-visual displays, archival photos and documents, and a large dollop of the good old-fashioned wow-factor. Its exhibits will include a Bollywood section with Shah Rukh Khan’s Dil To Pagal Hai clown car, Gond and Warli artists’ renditions of modern transport, kitsch trucks surrounded by hand-painted hoardings, a period mechanic’s shop, “jugaad” or modified transport, maritime transport, postal stamps, video art, a railway platform and possibly old engines from the Ministry of Railways. Then add a conference centre, a cafe, a library and an auditorium, along with Thakral’s 1947 Piper JC3 Cub plane, and “something big in aviation,” Harish teased. “We really can’t speak about it right now!”

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? Ultimately, the real surprise at the Heritage Transport Museum will likely be the thought and research behind it. Harish, the head curator, got his start at the National Museum Institute in Delhi but has lived in Paris for the past few years – he knows the wrecked state of local museums.

“There’s a museological joke,” Harish said. “Somebody’s up in a balloon and asks ‘Where am I?’ and the museologist on the ground looks up and says, ‘You’re in the air!’” Whether it’s a hot air balloon or a horse carriage, we expect to be told a lot more than that.

Read more about Delhi’s museums.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 30, 2011

The collector

Meet Tarun Thakral – a different sort of transport mogul ♦


Tarun Thukral (Photo: Anshika Verma)

When the COO of Le Meridien hotel first showed a tendency towards hoarding, it seemed an innocent enough personality quirk. Tarun Thakral was studying hospitality in France in the early ’90s when he noticed that the people around him seemed more interested in their side projects than their courses of study or jobs. “People spent a lot of time on their hobbies there. Growing up in India, one was urged to focus on school or college,” he said.

We glanced around his office as we chatted with him. Behind him were display shelves filled with rows of toy cars. “When I returned, I wanted to spend some time on myself. I was in Rajasthan when I started collecting gramophones and other antiques,” he said. Soon enough, he was a feverish victim of the collecting bug. His first vintage car was a 1932 Chevrolet, which he bought in Rajasthan. Today, he has 31 cars parked in his garage.

But that’s not all. “I got tired of just collecting cars. There are so many museums and collectors of antique cars. So I thought I would expand to trains,” he said. Until recently, he had a 1932 railway saloon, which once belonged to the Maharaja of Jodhpur, parked on his farmhouse plot. “I wrote to the Indian railways asking if they had anything and eventually they wrote back telling me they had this saloon that was about to be scrapped.” Thakral had the carriage restored and converted into an apartment, where he and his family would spend weekends.

rickshawThat saloon and all of his other transport wonders – along with a 1947 Piper Cub aircraft, purchased through an open UP government tender – are currently in storage. That’s because Thakral has big plans for his collection. “The government has approved plans for India’s first transport museum in Manesar,” he said. “We’re beginning construction and I hope to open it to the public in November.”

Besides the cars, train carriage and plane, he’s got lithographs from British times that depict or describe indigenous modes of transport. He’s also the proud owner of some motorcycles, rickshaws and bullock carts, and even a motorcycle- rickshaw. “Those used to be everywhere until the government banned them in 1999. One guy sold me his for about 5,000 rupees. We may not think anything of this vehicle, but look at it from the point of view of tomorrow’s generation,” Thakral said. “This one was painted by a Pakistani tribal-truckpainting artist, and I think it’s beautiful,” he added, showing us a photo, and we had to agree.

Thakral also has old-fashioned enamel petrol pump signs – “this is actually meena work, like what is done with jewellery” – as well as old postcards, automobile stamps and more. His plans for the museum include a cafeteria, a children’s area and conference area.

planeThakral has hired a curator and the museum will be divided according to centuries. “It will be like walking down a street of the 1800s, with the carts and carriages – and then turning on to a street of the 1900s.” The man certainly has enough material to flesh out his idea.

We followed Thakral around his office as he showed us some mementos, framed articles about his collection and strange knickknacks. We were particularly fascinated by two alcohol flasks doubling as music boxes and shaped like Mercedes grills. We’re looking forward to more when the museum opens.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, February 2009.

Published: February 9, 2009