Inside Bhatti Gate in the walled city, and just before the
remains of the red light district, is the Fakir Khana
Museum. Housed in a
traditional three story house, and built on the collection of gifts and
tributes paid to an advisor of Maharajah Ranjit Singh in the 19th
Century, it has remained in the family ever since.
Its present keeper, Saif, is a fifth generation custodian.
The collection now sprawls to 13,000 objects and his family has retreated ever
further back into ever smaller rooms before the tide of miniatures, artefacts,
rugs and antique weaponry.
Saif greets us in a room with low slung couches below
curtains of pale silk. Already the walls are covered, and framed pages from
illuminated manuscripts stacked on small tables. Every object has a story, he
says, from relics that travelled from Damascus
to Kashmir to Gujarat to Lahore
to rugs with human faces hidden among the pattern work.
He serves tea, and tells us how he dreams of his collection,
of the specific damages of time and climate and insect life. He shakes his head
at the enormity of the task before him, cataloguing and preserving, but soon
smiles with further memories of its treasures.
There is only time to see one room. We climb narrow stairs
and emerge in a room with stained glass windows recessed into heavy walls. We
gape. Every surface, from floor to well above our heads, is covered with
miniatures on paper and ivory, carvings, ceramics and glasswork.
Here the stories multiply, and Saif takes us from object to
object, through the various schools of painting [Persian, Mughal, Pahari] and
traditional narratives of love, fable and courtly life.
There is a beautiful miniature of a man riding a turtle. A
copy, he says, of a Chinese painting on silk that so impressed an emperor that
he demanded one in the local style. A sea king, riding below the waves in
shades of jade and malachite, ribbons of kelp swirling like a herald before