Time-Travelling in Bengaluru’s HMT Museum
70s and the 80s kids will remember the iconic watch brand ‘HMT’ that was known for decades as the country’s best premier wrist watch maker, and which shut shop in 2016. While the gates of the company have all but closed, its legacy is preserved in the form of a newly opened HMT Heritage Centre and Museum in Bangalore, where along with its iconic watches, other divisions like tractors, machine tools, bearings and lamps are also kept on display. If you want to learn all about how a watch is put together, the key role that HMT played in the development of the Indian railways, and also take a tractor ride, then make sure to head to Jalahalli. For me, HMT will always hold a special place, as my father worked at the brand, which led to it being a large part of my childhood. In fact, my first and most treasured watch was a HMT timepiece that my father had bought me. So when I heard about the museum, I decided to pay a visit out of a mix of nostalgia and anticipation.
Down Memory Lane
Housed in an expansive white hued building, the two-storied museum is the residence of a former Chairman, who gave up the space for the museum. Designed by Kanvide and Rao architects, the bungalow was built in 1953, with the total built up area of the museum spanning over 4246 square feet, while the landscape surrounding the building is spread over 4.17 acres. As I reach the ticketing counter, I am asked if I want a tractor ride and on a whim I pay for the same.
The first room I enter showcases the history of the company, with huge boards of all the HMT facilities in the country and images of former chairman being displayed proudly. On another side, a huge map of HMT in India traces the journey of the company that started in 1953 and grew exponentially to establish 29 units across India. It is interesting to note that there was a time when most of the factories in India had at least one HMT machine and every household had at least one HMT product. To echo its milestones, portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru receiving the first hand-wound HMT watch called ‘Janata’ in 1962 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee being presented HMT’s 100 millionth watch, frame the walls.
“Our current chairman S.Girish Kumar wanted to start this museum to preserve the history of HMT and create a space to showcase the journey of the company through the years, so that even a layman can understand the company,” Jayapalan P, Executive Associate (E&S), HMT Limited tells me. Jayapalan, who also looks over the proceedings of the museum, mentions that this team conducted a lot of extensive research to collect information from all of the brand’s 14 factories across India that is seen on the wall display here.
Watch Your Time
With its fantastic display of watches, the ground floor can be mistaken for a literal time machine. I’m lucky to witness an exhibition where the parts of a watch can be taken under a microscope so it can be magnified 40 times—to showcase the sheer number of components that go into its working mechanism. A few steps ahead, an extravagant display of different kinds of watch movements, watch case manufacturing process, multiple kinds of dials and indices, and watch cases await me.
The rooms are segregated to show tools and equipment, watch manufacturing process and time art. You can also take home a memory of your visit here by mimicking factory workers in the past—who inserted a card in the punching clock and pushed the lever down to register their attendance. A selfie point is also available to take a photograph.
Among the iconic watches on display are Braille watches to help the visually impaired read time and the Gold Biscuit Watch that has a one gram gold biscuit embedded on the dial—an exquisite blend of form and function. The Nurse Watch was introduced in the 1970s for nurses who could carry it upside down on a chain or even attach it for their uniform for fast viewing. The display boxes in bright colours are made using the old doors and windows of HMT School in Bengaluru that closed two years ago. The ground floor also has a cut model of a HMT 2511 tractor that was used in the manufacturing unit at Pinjore to train technical students at the training centre. The cross sections are made to show the function of each and every component of the tractor.
The first floor of the building dedicates separate sections to machine tools, bearings, lamps and tractors. This floor speaks volumes of the HMT’s capabilities in the core manufacturing space and of its numerous collaborations with foreign firms to build world class products. A cut section of bearing supplied to the Indian railways is also on display here. An audio-visual room, where you can watch a 15 minute film that traces the journey of HMT, including old television ads that were released by the company, is open to all visitors. “Our 14 different units are presented in an audio visual form so that all the achievements are consolidated and can be easily understood by the public,” Jayapalan tells me.
With an overload of information in my mind, I rush to take my ride on the tractor next. A short and fun drive through the property, and driven by a museum staffer, the ride on the tractor turned out to be surprisingly comfortable with its leather seats and lush green views. As I got off, I realized that it was perhaps serendipity that I was here on my father’s 7th death anniversary. Life sometimes has its own way of surprising you and my visit to the HMT museum, on this day, definitely took me back in time and history.