Life Lesson from a Museum Curator

Hi there,

Hope you and your family are doing well.

It has been a while since I last posted in the ‘Superwoman’ category of this blog. You can read the previous posts here.

I truly believe that every woman is a superwoman, only that many are yet to discover this truth about themselves.

Today’s post is about one such superwoman, Rathi – a sixty-year-old curator at the Government Museum, Kanyakumari.

We (Karthik and I) met her earlier this year when we visited Kanyakumari among many other places in South India. Little did I know it was going to be the first and probably the only trip we make this year. After spending three days visiting all the ‘must visit’ places and our heart’s fill of time on the beach, we had nowhere else to go before boarding the bus to our next stop – Pondicherry. We had already checked out of the hotel and had a few hours to go. Google suggested that the nearest place that was open at that hour was the Government museum. We decided to give it a try and today I am glad we did!

The museum is situated along the Beach Road and is marked by an old black and white board. People often pass by oblivious to its existence. In fact, I too wonder how many times had I passed by this place in the last three days while walking to the beach. The museum was unlike any I had previously visited. As soon as we stepped into the compound, we were welcomed by over a dozen ancient sculptures and statues that we later learned were from the 15th and 7nth century. These sculptures were placed in an orderly fashion in the front yard under the scorching sun.

Tamilnadu Tourism: Government Museum, Kanyakumari

Image Courtesy: Tamilnadu Tourism.

On entering the tiled roof, brick-walled building we met Rathi who looked at us through her round spectacles and smiled. She then handed us two tickets for Rs 5/- each. The museum had bits of many fields – anthropology, archaeology, numismatics, philately, botany, zoology and geology. There were ancient coins, costume dolls, tribal utensils, paintings, ancient weaponry and much more. I will not dig deep into the details of these marvellous artifacts here because no amount of words can explain the grandeur of these antiques.

The museum tour took us about thirty minutes after which we were again left with lots of time and nothing to do. The temperature outside was high and going to the beach that seemed ablaze under the afternoon sun did not feel like a great idea. As we stepped out we saw Rathi sweeping the floors and dusting the windows.

When we walked out of the building we found a family – an old couple accompanied by a teenager resting under a stone structure that sat behind the line of sculptures (Image above).  Stepping into the structure, we realised that the temperature inside was several degrees lower and we instantly felt better. We decided to spend some time there.

A few minutes later Rathi walked out of the building and started watering the sculptures and statues. She also watered the plants and trees that bordered the museum. She carefully plucked out the dried leaves and tended to the buds.  She spent more than an hour in the blistering sun doing this. Then she sat beside us to have her lunch. For several minutes after lunch, she sat there lost in her thoughts. She then softly asked me what I was reading, pointing to the Kindle in my hand. She spoke only Tamil but I understood what she wanted to know. I answered in Kannada hoping that the two south Indian languages had something in common.

Rathi was dressed in a simple sari and had her hair in a bun. She wore slippers and had no piece of jewellery on her. There was nothing extraordinary in her appearance but her eyes reflected warmth and gratitude. Something about her intrigued me and I wished to know more about her life.

Karthik who spoke Tamil replied to her.  The two got into a conversation very quickly. Karthik translated between us and I asked her many questions about her journey. I told her that I was a blogger and wished to write about her. At the thought of which her face lit up. She was humble and told us that she was an ordinary woman with nothing special worth writing about. She then opened up about her early years.

She was given the job of the curator after her husband’s sudden demise. She was only twenty-two and had four mouths to feed. She told us that the job had come as a blessing to her and her family. She had managed to educate her children and pay for her daughter’s marriage because of the job. She looked after the museum as her own house. She spent her afternoons watering the sculptures because she could not stand the thought of them burning in the heat while she enjoyed her lunch in the shade. Over the years she had read and learned a lot about the significance of these artifacts and their heritage. She wanted to do her best to preserve them while she was at the job.

When we asked her if someone checked on her regarding this she said yes. Her conscious did.

“I owe everything to this museum. I have given it thirty-eight years of my life but it has given me a lot more” she said.

This is a lesson that is going to stay with me for long. On one side we hear about the educated youth who find the smallest of reasons to vandalise and destroy public property and on the other, this sixty-year-old woman was showing us what it means to be responsible for your job. Even without knowing what it meant, she was setting an example of Integrity – Doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Isn’t that something we must all be doing at our jobs too?

Rathi retired from her job at the museum in February 2020.  She plans to spend her days going back to reading and writing with the help of her granddaughter. 🙂

That is all I had for today.



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