Boundaries of history chronicled through maps

New Delhi: One way of understanding history is through reading books and another way is through analysing maps. Shaping the structure of the world are the lines that define the borders of each country. Mapping the Indian journey from the 18th century to the pre-Independence era is a fascinating exhibition of an unseen collection of historical maps - a nostalgic sojourn on our 66th Independence Day celebrations.

There are more than 100 maps on display in the exhibition, ‘How India Got Its Boundaries’, by Anubhav Nath, curatorial director of Ojas Art. The labour of love took almost a decade to put together as the maps have been sourced from Pierre Mortier Lapie, Rigobert Bonne and John Talliis, among other dealers of prominent cartographers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

"The beginning of the collection was what I inherited from my grandfather, Ramchander Nath. The maps come from dealers from all over the world, including popular cartographers. I have also tried to collect atlases which are very difficult to come by in a good condition," Nath said.

"The sources included dealers and flea markets from all over the world," he added.

Cartography is an art of graphically representing a geographical area and there was a time when maps helped an explorer in discovering new places and mark geographical locations. It was also the time when the vast commissioning of maps was done by the western powers. This is the reason why each map is accompanied by an authenticity certificate as they have been printed in Britain, France, Italy and the US.

One of the maps, ‘Indostan Presquisles of India, China, Independent Tartie’ by French cartographer S. Robert de Vaugondy in 1761, presents a different dimension of the boundaries in the Indian subcontinent - a peek into the world that had to witness many changes in years to come.

"Maps help in establishing facts as they were. One cannot refute the lines that old maps show. They are great in reiterating historical facts that people may want to discount or overlook otherwise," conceded Nath as he felt maps are a testimony of a bygone era.

And then with the change of power in the Indian subcontinent, many things changed. There were some happy additions and some horrifying partitions. Pre-Independence India included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh and post-independence, two nations became three, with the third coming into existence after the 1971 liberation war.

Witnessing these changes are the maps that have stayed there, unchanged, waiting for new lines to be added and some to be subtracted.

Hence, Nath felt, it is important to preserve them.

"I personally don`t believe in restoring them, but yes a little bit of preservation, that is, keeping them in the correct non-humid conditions, and most importantly framing them as per archival standards is important," Nath said.

Once an explorers` prized possession, maps are slowly sinking into the world of obscurity with technological and convenient options like the Global Positioning System, but Nath feels the old world charm of maps is here to stay.

"In this digital age, real maps have become a bit redundant, just like encyclopedias. But the charm of an old map is something else. Just like the smell of old books. It is intoxicating," he concluded.

The exhibition will be open to the public from Aug 15 to Sep 20 at Ojas Art Gallery here from 11 a.m to 7 p.m.