Richard Blurton with the Shiva Nataraja statue at the British Museum.

by Amit Roy

A DEBATE has long raged about Britain returning art treasures to its former colonies.

At one level, the answer is simple – property stolen or looted should be returned. But for Indians, there is a more difficult question: would we rather the treasures had remained or were now returned to India to be lost or degraded through indifference and neglect – let’s face it, we are not very good at looking after our heritage – or are we content to see them being restored and displayed with great care and attention in Britain?

Personally, I have long maintained that London is now the capital of Greater India. So long
as Richard Blurton looked after the India collection at the British Museum, I knew they were in safe hands. The Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery – entry is free – features everything from the 1100 AD statue of Shiva Nataraja to the delicate limestone Amaravati carvings that have been Richard’s life for 32 years.

But a few days ago, Richard retired as “head, south and south-east section, department of
Asia”. He will be a big loss to the museum.

Richard certainly hopes the India collection will be looked after with as much care and devotion as he paid to it. He is currently working on a comprehensive book on the south Asia collection.

In the new year, he will head to India, his second home.

I spent a day at the museum talking to Richard and also attended his farewell party. It’s a
cliché, but his departure does mark the end of an era. People from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka should visit the collection so as to learn about their rich heritage.