The last weekend, chatting with someone, I was posed that dreaded question: what plans for the weekend? And I honestly replied:
The Jaganmohan Palace; need a high dose of culture.
I was bored out of my wits, and thought a visit to the art gallery would somehow bestow inspiration upon me. Inspiration to do what, I had no idea. But inspiration is a good thing, and so I wanted it.
But as with all things that start off with misplaced intentions, this thing too didn’t lead me anywhere. I continued to vegetate at home post that conversation, wondering about Newton’s Ist Law. I was in a state of inertia, and would need something monumental to budge me from my said-sized inertia. But real life, let’s face it, is: real, and that much-desired monumental intervention didn’t come to fore.
The last couple of days have been a different story, however. No, Woody Allen isn’t scripting my life all of a sudden. But come to think of it, if he did, I’d enjoy my life’s screenplay. But anyway, here’s that not-quite-allusion to Newton’s Ist Law once again. Any object (also) continues to be a in a state of motion until acted upon by an external force. I am tempted to believe there should be a shiny, quote-worthy equivalent sentiment of this in Psychology. I mean, this just seems so straighforward that someone should have thought of it already. But then, just because this is too straightforward, maybe everyone by-passed it. I don’t know, I am just speaking my mind rather too freely here. Oh no, wait. Wallace did say: This is water. And that had people raving about it.
But anyway, here’s the different story Woody Allen didn’t at all script. I finally got back to books. Not class-prep books, not must-read books, but just books. And I also got myself to the Art Gallery/Palace. Not because of the culture dosage, not because of the touristy-things to be done, but I just did. I wanted to.
On to the art gallery first. I don’t think I have an aesthetic sense of art. I remember standing at the Louvre in front of Mona Lisa, staring at it for minutes on end. What was I hoping for? An Aha! moment wherein Da Vinci’s thoughts entering into me by some strange process, and turning my life around such that I finally “got” Mona Lisa? Obviously, that didn’t happen, and I continue to not get Mona Lisa.
But anyway back to Jaganmohan Art Gallery. I felt sad at the decrepitude the palace has fallen into. Royal to plebeian, that is what the building’s transformation has been. Just at the entrance to the Ist Art Gallery, there is a large open space that looked like a durbar/hall to me. I could be wrong because there was a large pillar smack dab at the centre of this space. But there were balconies on the first floor from where one could look down into this spacious hall. I imagined ranis sitting there enjoying a dance performance or some such. But even that imagination felt heavy; the flight just refused to take off beyond that.
It was good to see paintings of the Wodeyar kings. I admit to knowing very little history of this dynasty, but then the paintings by themselves aren’t the history lessons I need. To my eyes it seemed like Krishna Raja Wodeyar and Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar seemed to dominate the installations in their various regalia. I’d have loved to see the paintings of their wives, but I don’t know if the royal family has paintings of the queens as well for posterity.
The rather small section on Tipu Sultan was the one that moved me. That is perhaps because I knew a wee bit about him, thanks to Doordarshan. There were paintings of Tipu Sultan’s last battle to save the Srirangapatna fort, which appeared poignant to me. And there was one particular painting depicting Tipu Sultan’s family “finding” his body after the battle. Evoked a sense of pathos. And then there were a couple of paitings of Tipu’s sons being “sent away”. I don’t know why and where they were sent away, but seeing those paintings too, I felt something move within.
The second floor had paintings by Ravi Varma and several other Indian artists. “Expectations”. That was one theme many of the artists had expressed on. Quite a difficult word, that: expectations. More so than other paintings, I wonder if we ever get what the artist meant with such a theme. All we are ever left with is our interepretation of their rendition. There was one particular painting by A B Bannerjee titled Nectar that I remember. It showed a woman holding a goblet of nectar with just the faintest glimpse of a smile. It was understandably a painting of an Indian woman, and that faint wisp of a smile adorning her lips made for a picture with possibilities. I loved seeing that.
Another that caught my eye was titled Matsyagandhi. This depicted King Shantanu, Satyvati and her father, with the much told storyline being the relinquishment by Bhishma of the throne for the sake of his father’s love for Satyvavati. The artist here, had shown a basket containing fish, which made sense. But what I didn’t quite get was the depiction of a very angry looking rooster in the painting. I wondered if there was some philosophical underpinning to having the bird there.
F M Soofi’s Panther Killing Peacock took me aback for a while. It was, as the title suggests, a picture of a panther killing a peacock, with the bird’s long colourful tail feathers – all crumbled up – also depicted. I had quite honestly never thought of a peacock this way ever. Preening in all their refulgent glory – that’s what peacocks did in my mind. This alternative story in which they get killed took me a while to get my mind around.
Venkatappa’s Modaka Neivedya to Lord Ganesha made me smile. It showed Ganesha actually accepting the modaka affered to him by the devotee.
The second floor of the building houses musical instruments – Indian and western. Sitars, veenas, a standing harmonium, harps, a dulcimer, jaltarangs. There is also a separate enclosure that shows musical instruments that Krishnaraja Wodeyar himself played.
I really wished the gallery was better maintained. In at least a couple of places the brooms apparently used to clean the place were placed in open view of the visitors. (As an aside, at the Jayalakshmi Vilas, I caught sight of a Colin glass cleaner discreetly tucked away in a corner).
I almost forgot this: there was quite an impressive collection of intricately carved ivory articles in the gallery. There were the usual jewel boxes, combs, animal figurines, the not so usual canon, but two things in particular, caught my eye. One: Fly wisp. I didn’t know this thing was called a fly wisp until today. It is that thing that attendants standing behind the king/queen fan them with. Made me grin really wide. And two: ivory carvings of elephants themselves.
Having said all that, I would still recommend this place to visitors. But one should perhaps go visit the place, having done some research on the Wodeyar kings, Tipu Sultan et al. That is when one wouldn’t feel too lost walking from one installation to another. Pictures of Nala Damayanthi and Salim Anarkali weren’t too lost on me. Those are stories we read growing up. Stories – these are perhaps why we visit art galleries and museums. Yes, there is information. There is knowledge. But unless all that information comes together in the form of a story, our time travel back to those ages would remain meaningless. But then again, gawking at disparate painting installations doesn’t give us a story. A great deal has to do with what we bring to the place. It’s only then we get to take back a story.
As I came out of the gallery, I stood right in front of the palace and the garden which seemed to be freshly tilled. Looking up at this old edifice with whithered paint, I had but one thought in my mind: I wish I was born in a different time to have seen it in its heyday. That must have been a vision to behold.
PS. Will write on the books in a separate post. This post by itself has become a big one.