Preserving History

Conservator Prem Kumar Nagta restores fragments of history, from Gupta-era coins to paintings in ParliamentM

The zeal to conserve national heritage for future generations and an office that resembles a chemistry laboratory of a government school is all that Prem Kumar Nagta, a conservator at the National Museum, needs to have a meaningful life. Nagta has been preserving and conserving national and international pieces of historical importance for the past 10 years.

For Nagta, conserving every item that comes to the National Museum is not just part of his job. "Every piece, article that we restore here in this lab comes to us because of its historical importance. We know that richness of every dynasty is depicted through its arts and culture. To conserve those fragments of history, which would give us a chance to know what kind of rulers we had, is an honour and a great responsibility," says Nagta, who started his career with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1984.

A tattered flag of Turkey which could break with a single touch has been conserved beautifully. The technique used was darning with full lining. According to the conservator, the scientists have to study the material closely before darning. "We need to use the same material for darning, stitching or for the full lining below the piece to conserve it in its originality. The real challenge lies in how we save it in its original form without disturbing it," says Nagta.

Nagta remembers receiving a mud-covered excavated pot with coins from Gupta dynasty. When the preservation started, it became green and blue. "Copper turned green and blue which is called patina, a protective layer. We did not touch patina as tampering with it can cause loss of the historical treasure we had," he said while showing photographs of the pot before and after conservation.

There have been paintings in the President's house which he and his team have restored. There were paintings which had flicking. The conservators had to conserve them using full and strip lining as the textile became weak. The team had restored and conserved 155 paintings on panels in the Parliament House too. "These paintings were on masonite wood. We work only on the portion that needs conservation and ensure that the process we use to conserve this heritage is reversible, so that the heritage is not damaged even when the textile of process used in conservation is harmed," he explains. The lab also received 70 articles from Kumaon regiment for repairs.

The lab keeps records of every article being preserved. The team has worked several days to conserve a roof painting in the Prime Minister's office in the South Block. "It was an honour when an officer of Kumaon Regiment came and shook hands. He was awed by the conservation tasks we have performed on their collection of historical artefacts. An MP asked me to restore the painting of Subhash Chandra Bose ahead of others while we were working in the Parliament. The job has its perks," laughs Nagta.

Rummaging through photographs of his assignments, Nagta does not make any fuss about his job which obviously has national importance. All he wants is to share the work he and his colleagues have done.

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