Nita Pillai has been trying in vain for the last four years to get permission from the trustees of the Academy of Fine Arts of Kolkata (AFA), to enter its museum. Her request has been turned down, although her mother, the late Ranu Mookerjee, was related to Rabindranath Tagore and played a vital role in setting up AFA and managing it for three decades.
Pillai smelt a rat because the museum had personal letters from Tagore to her mother as well as the manuscript of Bhanusingha Thakurer Padabali (1884) in Brajabuli. (Bhanu Singha was Tagore’s pen name and Brajabuli is an artificial literary language developed in the 16th century.) A number of original paintings are feared to have been taken away by influential members of the AFA board of trustees. The AFA trustees have been patronised by erstwhile West Bengal CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Bhattacharjee has bestowed his blessings in particular upon the AFA board’s chairman, Ashoke Mukherjee, who’s better known as a businessman than an art connoisseur.
Uday Narayan Singh, pro-vice-chancellor of the Viswa Bharati University, was also denied entry into the museum, said Pradipta Kanungo, AFA vice-president. According to the last audit report, prepared by G Basu & Co, the auditors observed, “Paintings were sold in illegal manner and stock-taking of the articles was not possible.”
The Save Academy of Fine Arts Committee (SAFAC) comprises artists and museologists who refuse to dance to Bhattacharjee’s tune. SAFAC in a memorandum to CM Mamata Banerjee, stated: "The Trustees have kept the museum locked since seven years. Nobody has been permitted to enter the museum, except the Trustees and their kin."
When contacted, SAFAC convenor and AFA's former joint secretary, Bulbul Roy, said, "We demanded in the memorandum to Mamata Banerjee that the museum be opened and there be a scrutiny and stock-taking by external experts." With ostentatious transparency, the management opened the museum for three days for very limited hours, but very few people were granted entry. Pillai could not be contacted, but Bulbul Roy asserts that "Pillai has lent full support to our struggle and we keep her informed of developments".