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South Asian links to NHS and pioneering physicist in the spotlight

Manchester Museum shows off £15 million transformation in 2022

Links between South Asia and the NHS, and the life of a ground-breaking Indian physicist are among the rich stories being told in Manchester Museum’s newest permanent exhibition. The South Asia Gallery, a partnership with the British Museum, is special for having been curated by a collective of 30 inspiring individuals — from artists and musicians to community leaders and educators — to tell personal narratives that foster a window into South Asia. And at the very heart of the exhibition hall is a dedicated space for the putting on of performances, films and various participatory activities, the opening display in which is a film exploring hybrid identities and connections to performance and music.

The curator of the South Asia gallery, Nusrat Ahmed, said: “As a first-generation British-born South Asian person, it is really exciting to be part of such a groundbreaking project.

“The co-curated South Asia Gallery envisages a collaborative, iterative space that will generate new perspectives and connections.

“We hope to engage further diaspora communities on its opening and support its continuous evolution.

“This personalized approach humanises the gallery, telling stories about real people and their objects.”

The story of a ground-breaking Indian physicist is being told at the Manchester Museum (Image: Manchester Museum)

Pictured: A decorated rickshaw on display in the South Asia Gallery (Image: Getty Images)

The gallery’s 140 opening historic artefacts — which are accompanied by modern commissions and personal objects belonging to the collective’s members — have been divided into six overarching themes.

Prof. Bose — who lends his name to the group of subatomic particles known as “Bosons” — is perhaps best known for his work with the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein in the field of quantum statistics, the fruits of which include the notion of the Bose–Einstein condensate.

This is the “fifth” state of matter that typically forms when a very-low-density gas of bosons is cooled down close to absolute zero, at which point ordinarily microscopic quantum mechanical phenomena become apparent on the macroscopic scale.

READ MORE: Inside the UK’s largest university museum after a £15m transformation

Pictured: Prof. Bose and his grandson, Falguni Sarker, in the 70s (Image: Falguni Sarker)

Bose’s work inspired the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (Image: Getty Images)

In the South Asia Gallery, his grandson, Falguni Sarker, shares the story of how Prof. Bose’s work impacted the scientific community, via his letters to Einstein.

Mr Sarker told “Bose’s correspondence with Albert Einstein is fascinating. It is one of those legendary stories in the annals of the history of science.

“Bose had been grappling with Planck’s Law [which describes the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a black body in thermal equilibrium at a definite temperature], and was troubled by the ad hoc nature of Planck’s conclusion, and the fact that the mathematics wasn’t elegant. The theory was primarily empirical in nature.

“What Bose did was devise a new form of counting, a statistical method of counting particles — in this case photons. He sent his paper to the British Philosophical Magazine, but didn’t hear anything.

“So he did what any 30-year-old mathematician, sitting in the far reaches of the British Empire, would do — he sent it to the most famous scientist in Europe!

“Einstein received the short, four-page paper and was so impressed that he translated it himself and published it in the leading scientific magazine of the day, Zeitschrift für Physik, with a note saying the paper was ‘a beautiful step forward’.”

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The South Asia Gallery is special for having been curated by a collective of 30 individuals (Image: Manchester Museum)

As Ms Ahmed explains, the early 1960s saw the British politician and then Minister of Health Enoch Powell “invite people to come from South Asia to be part of the NHS.”

Accordingly, the gallery has on display some objects that belonged to one Dr. Ghulam Jeelani Drabu from Kashmir, who accepted the call to move to England to help bolster the growing health system — and worked over here for the rest of his life.

His dedication inspired his family, with all his children and grandchildren now working in the NHS as well.

In a poignant, more modern example, the gallery has on display some of the personal effects — including a Quran-speaking cube — of a doctor from Pakistan who tragically died from Covid-19 in the April of 2020, shortly after starting work at the Manchester University Hospitals.

British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: “The British Museum is delighted to be collaborating with Manchester Museum to create a new permanent South Asia Gallery.

“Working together to create Partnership Gallery spaces like these are a vital part of our long-term strategy to share our collections and expertise.

“We have learned a great deal from the community and curatorial team in Manchester on this innovative project.

The South Asia Gallery — which opens to the public on February 18, 2023 — will occupy the upper floor of Manchester Museum’s brand new exhibition space, installed as part of an “ambitious” £15 million transformation that has increased its accessibility and inclusivity.

The largest university museum in the UK, it first opened in 1890 and holds in its collections a whopping 4.5 million specimens from human cultures and the natural sciences — from long-dead Egyptian mummies to living communities of rare frogs.

A spokesperson said: “The museum reopens its doors with the aim to build greater understanding between cultures, a more sustainable world and to bring to life the lived experience of diverse communities.”

More information on the South Asia Gallery can be found on the Manchester Museum website.

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