With heart wrenching pain, I write this tribute for one of India’s greatest and youngest museum directors, Karni Singh Jasol 💔
Born in Rajasthan, Karni studied at Mayo College Ajmer, Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Vadodara, and received the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and Fulbright Fellowship, USA, amongst other awards. He was and will remain the pride of India’s museum sector.
Karni dazzled the world with his brilliant leadership as he led the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur, to newer heights. “Under his headship, Mehrangarh Fort has been awarded the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Excellence in 2005, the Fassa Bortolo Domus Award for Architectural Conservation in 2012 and … nominated for the prestigious Agha Khan Award for Architectural Conservation.” (http://www.thejodhpurinitiative.com/ksj.aspx)
As I write this, Karni was spearheading one of the most exciting projects transforming Mehrangarh into one of the super best museums in the world, and we were waiting with bated breath for its unveiling. He had already co curated some of the world’s most amazing exhibitions in the US, based on the Mehrangarh museum’s collection, he was on a spree to take Jodhpur to the world and winning.
Highly educated, intelligent, smart, extremely soft spoken and well mannered, affable, suave, charismatic, eager to learn and increase his knowledge, humble, always ready to share and help even if it meant going out of his way, reliable, warm, caring, loving, gentle, witty, Karni was more than perfect. He worked his way up to become the Director of Mehrangarh and understood the demand of the profession, at all levels. Always open to discussion, new ideas, Karni was adventurous and however difficult his work would be, Karni was always, always seen smiling ❤️ His entire staff loved, adored and respected him, he had that amazing quality about him. In the museum, culture, heritage and tourism sectors in India, we all knew that one call to Karni about any work related issue and he would help remove that obstacle. In a world of sleazy, creepy men and insensitive bosses, for us women, Karni could be blindly trusted.
In December 2019, as a Member of the Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM), I organised a conference at Mehrangarh. We had planned for a different venue but it didn’t work out so it was suggested by the CAM board to try Mehrangarh, Karni readily agreed. Karni not only ensured his senior Curatorial staff led by Dr Sunayana Rathore coordinate with us for a year before the conference, he also hosted us at the guest house inside the Mehrangarh Fort. From free printouts at the museum’s printers to helping set up the beautiful space for the conference, finding delectable menu for the participants to giving us endless cups of tea and coffee with snacks, Karni’s involvement was there in every small detail.
On 28th November, 2019, he took the conference participants for a personal guided tour of the Fort and Palace. The photographs and video shared here were taken by me during this tour and will remain a favourite memory for all of us from the conference. He showed us his favourite spaces and in the video you will notice how the Phool Mahal was shown to us without the electrical lights, through ‘diyas’ that lit up the glass ceiling work. Every nook and corner of Mehrangarh is Karni!
On a personal note, Karni and I have known each other over two decades, away from our shared profession and passion for museums. We were both born to museum directors and grew up inside an old palace turned museum. Nearly the same age, I used to tease him how he chose museums as his studies and profession and how I landed into it by fluke and he would laugh!
When we met in 2019, I saw the fantastic catalogue of the hugely popular exhibition ‘Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur’ and remarked how much my parents loved it and were proud of Karni for taking the Mehrangarh museum’s collections across Indian shores. Karni beamed and immediately asked if my parents had a copy and when I mentioned it was too expensive he happily gave one to me to carry back. I requested him for an autograph and he gladly agreed. Then he remarked if the catalogue was too heavy for me to carry then he would have it sent to Santiniketan. That was how Karni was, always thinking ahead of how he could ease anyone’s burden! My mother keeps talking of how this dashing, well dressed young gentleman came up to them at the Smithsonian, Washington, 2008 and touched their feet for blessings. My parents loved Karni as their own son, and so did many in this world. When my brother’s family was visiting Mehrangarh for the first time, I called Karni to ask if he was available to meet them, he apologised for his absence as he was travelling but provided them with free entry and an unforgettable guided tour of the museum.
When I wanted to create provisions for making a museum accessible and inclusive to the Disabled in India, the first museum director I had called was Karni. He had connected me to the designers and though it didn’t work out, we never stopped sharing how Mehrangarh could be more accessible. I had asked him why there were not many signage inside the Fort directing people to the museum and he had quietly smiled and said “…the museum is there, people will find it if they want to, we don’t want to force anyone to visit it, they are here for an experience, that matters…”
Karni, we were supposed to grey together and learn together. You have left behind a huge gap and a pain that we will never get over from! May you rest in peace. You will always be Mehrangarh and Mehrangarh will always be Karni ❤️ Sending the deepest condolences and prayers to your beautiful wife and children.