In my first year in college at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, I spotted an ad in The Statesman newspaper. BITM was asking for applications from students for holiday work at the Museum. I dutifully applied, very conscious that at some point in my life I’d have to go from “learning” to “earning”.
At the interview, I was asked to talk in English on any technical subject of my choice, so I waxed eloquent on how radio signals were broadcast and received. Soon, I found myself hired to work as a student guide lecturer in the Iron and Steel gallery of the museum.
Thereafter, till the end of my 3-year degree course, I used to spend most of my holidays earning pocket money by taking the museum visitors around the floor housing the Iron and Steel exhibits. I remember how some of the displays depicted the extraction of iron ore, then the processing, all the way to the Bessemer converters for producing steel.
The museum also had a canteen on the roof of its imposing building on Gurusaday Road, where subsidized snacks were served to employees. I made friends with a number of the regular staff, and also spent my lunch break visiting the other galleries. There was a TV studio, electronics exhibits, and of course the standard fare of optics, hydraulics, mechanics and so forth. The last had such things as the Foucalt pendulum.
Admission to the museum was free in those days, since the authorities wanted to popularize science and technology. The museum even had a mobile unit, in a large van, which toured the outlying districts of the state of West Bengal.
Even when I was in high school, I’d attended technical film shows at BITM. I also remember a workshop for building a 6” parabolic reflecting telescope. Although I didn’t attend the workshop, I was there on the final day when we were allowed to look through some of the telescopes built by amateurs. I clearly remember seeing the rings of Saturn, and how large our own moon looked.
Children frequently went to the museum to play with the exhibits, some of which were powered and others had wheels and levers to activate them. I don’t know, of course, how many of these kids eventually used science and technology in their later life, consciously that is, but I for one wish to record, through this article, my remembrance of a youth well spent, of parents who were exceptional, and of a milieu of responsible adults who put society before self and country before politics.