Antique maps missing from Asiatic SocietyHemali Chhapia, TNN, 24 January 2010, 02:01am IST
MUMBAI: India has lost a slice of its history, from an institution no less than Asiatic Society of Mumbai, founded in 1804 to preserve India’s rich antiquity. From the deep recesses of this establishment where even roaches can’t enter, maps circa 18th Century — priceless, irreplaceable, hand-drawn and colourful original prints — have been disappearing from its vaults.
Almost nothing remains of the entire set of maps that date back to 1803-04: they depict the expanse of Mumbai (then Bombay) in great detail when the first revenue survey was carried out. Called the Dickinson survey, close to 350 rolls had every part of the city drawn — its street plan, forts, old tanks, buildings. The 200-year-old guardian of these maps has no clue how they slipped through its fingers. And in what doesn’t seem to be an admirable reflection of Asiatic Society’s efforts to preserve these records, another set of antique rolls last catalogued in 1975 is short of 150 maps. These included admiralty charts of various parts of the world, some drawn by the Portuguese who were considered prolific cartographers.
‘‘It appears to be a systematic theft. Of another set of 1,330 maps that were catalogued by an internal committee of Asiatic, only 1,135 remain now. I’ve written a letter to Society regarding these missing maps. Maps have been vanishing over a period of time,’’ said geographer B Arunachalam. The architect of University of Mumbai’s geography department, Arunachalam’s expertise is mathematical cartography, and he has worked with bodies like Society of Indian Ocean Studies, Indian National Cartographic Association, National Geographic, India.