Friday Review

Stories and spaces

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Project 560, a programme by India Foundation of the Arts, hosted a range of performances and installations across Bengaluru in an attempt to engage with spaces in the city and re-imagine them. A visit to some of them made it evident that the intermingling of the past and present is an ongoing process

The voices from the other side- Archana Prasad’s installation ‘Malleshwaram Calling- Memories across time or Nenapugala Sethuve’.

Under the busy and rather noisy Yeshwanthpur flyover, just outside the roughly drawn borders of Malleswaram, stood a phone booth dressed in a bright red. Passersby, stumbling across this abandoned structure from the past, paused to look at it but seemed reluctant to step inside despite their pressing curiosity. Finally, Mallikarjuna, a traffic police officer, ventured inside. As soon as he opened the doors of the booth, a vintage black land phone began ringing. “This phone is special. It will connect you to the people of Malleswaram in the 1950s,” said the voice from the other side. Mallikarjuna was then instructed by the voice to dial a number of his choice to hear a story about Malleswaram narrated by a ‘Malleswaram-ite’ from a previous time and sensibility.

He then listened intently to sounds and words that gave life to stories about the origins of Malleswaram, when it was designated the third concrete area of the city with the pincode 560003, the first independence day celebrations at Hymamshu Jyothi Kala Peetha, a school on 4 Main Road in 1950, the art and culture of the 50s,the many varied personal accounts of eateries and sports of the area and so on.

It was a bizarre trip to make for Mallikarjuna. Especially, because he was standing in the present, amidst the humdrum of traffic.

Archana Prasad who conceptualised and designed this installation has re-imagined the phone booth as some kind of a time machine and found in it a novel mode and site of history-telling. The booth may not have transported Mallikarjuna physically to the 1950s but the past and the present intersected in beautiful ways in Archana’s installation.

First, by placing it in the middle of the city’s traffic, history or shall we say histories were made accessible to everyone. Second, the ones narrating these stories were commoners. So, in more ways than one, Archana’s project is an oral history project that aims to be democratic in its authorship and access.

As I stood around the phone booth, I saw inquisitive onlookers stopping to notice the booth, some daring to make the trip, some more hesitant. Just then, Mallikarjuna stepped outside the booth. I asked him to talk about what he had just heard. “You know, I did duty in Malleswaram for one and a half years. This call refreshed some of my memories of the area. The city has changed so much, no? See this Yeshwanthpur bus stand. It used to be a small two-lane spot where once in a while, one bus would pass. Now it is a palace,” he said and walked away.

May be the phone booth wasn’t just a site of listening to stories. It triggered some new stories too?

The museum comes alive- Stories Unearthed by Anuradha Venkataraman

If the phone booth in Archana’s installation offered a kind of time travel, the museum has always been a space where visitors journey across time and destinations. All they need to do is step inside.

Dancer Anuradha Venkataraman figured that if people were reluctant to set aside time and step inside the government-manned time machine, then perhaps some sculptures and relics from the museum could very well journey outside the museum and make themselves heard? After all, the stories inside the museum are linked intrinsically to the city we live in, right? What Anuradha and her team did was use the medium of performance to forge this obvious, yet forgotten connection between the city and its museum.

Using four war relics from the museum, Anuradha narrated a history of Bangalore. The hero stone from Begur, a Vijayanagara inscription, the canons of Tipu Sultan and a few mutilated sculptures housed in the garden of the museum served as contexts for her team’s performance. The subject of her performance was the city but the narration was steeped in the theme of war. Heroism and the birth of Bangalore, the consequences of subsequent wars in and around the city, Bangalore’s emergence as the cantonment in British history and the Anglo-Mysore wars, the two world wars and the city’s identity as the science capital of the country and finally the modern ‘war’ where the city is forced to bear the brunt of unplanned development- these were some of the themes that Anuradha addressed through her performance. Again, the past and the present met each other around the four walls of the museum as the performers expressed themselves through the language of Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance.

Anuradha’s Stories Unearthed was yet another method of reimagining spaces within the city, revisiting the city’s history, transposing and linking it to the present and making it more accessible to the public.

Ondu Lessu Ondu Pluss – Performance of Café Poems by Prathibha Nandakumar

You want to tell the story of many cities within one? You want to tell the story of how everyone’s life charts its own course even while everyone is commonly stuck in traffic jams, dealing with high costs, bad roads etc? Local trains and coffee houses have been a space of enduring fascination for several, modern writers and filmmakers for whom the city is a subject. You share the same space, but your life is so completely disinfected from the other’s.

We sat sipping our coffees at the Coffee House, engrossed in our conversations. He screamed, banged the table. She stood up. A string of abuses were hurled at her, he held on to her clothes, dragged her out, even as she begged and pleaded to be let go. Within minutes, Vincent the server, came running back – ‘she was run over by a bus,’ he announced, panting and gasping. The hall fell silent.

“Was it real?” someone asked in hushed tones, breaking the silence. Life in the city is not an easy reality – well-known Kannada poet Prathibha Nandakumar’s Ondu lessu Ondu plussu, a poetry performance of her Coffee House poems, had a shocking quality. Walking in between tables, comfortably settling between regular customers, Prathibha and her team performed the poems as if they had unfolded right there. Famila’s death, lesbianism, the paradoxical nature of activism and reality – the poems raised ‘uncomfortable’ issues in a cold, casual way. If one imagined these poems as conversations between two people, or if they inhabited the mind as part of one’s own silent reading — the performance distorted both. It threw these issues into public realm, putting to test our notions of morality, and our hypocrisy in dealing with them.

If literature is all about taking us closer to life, Prathibha’s poetry performance achieved it. The modern cityscape is bursting with a peculiar energy, but is it all dissipated in the insular nature of our lives? “Oh, was it a film’s shooting…?” People had gone back to their coffees.

Guided Tour of Mohan: Klatsch Collective

Unless you are a quintessential old Bangalorean, who scoffs at all ideas modern, why would you go to the pete area? You may perhaps go if you are someone who needs a regular fix of nostalgia. With a group that’s a mix of ‘let’s check it out’ to ‘wow, a revisit’, we walk through the crammed Avenue Road full of shops, eating up even the pavement! Passing by the age-old Rice Memorial Church, Seetaphone Company… you mutter to yourself, thank god it’s still there.

You turn into Chikpet, OTC Road, you follow the Klatsch Collective guides into Mohan Buildings 1909, and you are figuratively breathless. It almost seems like the beautiful 105-year-old building strayed its way into this area. Klatsch Collective -- mostly comprising of newcomers to the city -- through their meticulous research and interest, transform this forgotten space into a brilliant piece of living history. You feel you’ve walked into a period film – the space complete with objects and furniture of vintage value.

A guided tour of this multi-part building tells you the story of the Ismail Sait, a Kutchi Memon from Bombay who built the house in 1909. He named it after his son Ahmed. But in the flow of time and fortune, the building was bought by Nandalal Kapur in 1945 who named it after his brother Mohanlal.

Klatsch resorts to an imaginative narrative -- they tell you the story as it happened in history, they also fictionalise it as it is narrated by Mohan. The corridors and rooms in the building tell the story of Sait and his family, of Mohan, the Bombay Anand Bhavan hotel that used to occupy a part of the building, the lodge, the many shops and shopkeepers. It also tells the story through a middle-aged, anglo-Indian woman who lived in the lodge for several years. There is an interesting criss-crossing of not just the past and present, but the many layers of past itself. It renders history with a complexity that is hard to resolve. Family ties, trade, changing cityscape, dreams, ambition – Klatsch tells you an engaging story of a humble city that has grown into a metropolis. What makes it pertinently contemporary is the dreams the current neighbourhood of Mohan buildings has for it. In the present, Mohan Buildings is still caught in the throes of a past and a future.

Klatsch puts out a stunning story, unfolding it in great detail.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2018 3:26:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/stories-and-spaces/article8004663.ece

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