Malleshwaram in a glimpse
Concept Note: Talking about Malleshwaram, it is a very close knit place where you can ﬁnd most things at a walkable distance from wherever you are. The place has a wonderful alignment of trees including Sampige, Neem, Mahogany to name a few, which gives it a distinct character of it’s own. Keeping these things in mind and adding one’s own memorabilia, this piece traces the map of Malleshwaram and connects details of public nostalgic memory to it.
Geechugalu: Tell us a bit about yourself, your collaboration and your art practice with trees as a memorabilia at Malleshwaram.
Meghana: My name is Meghana and my collaborator’s name is Dhanush, both of us we met at Art College and we both have been working together since. We’ve been making sculptures for a very long time now, it’s been 10 years, and his is a long journey, because he started much earlier, but the idea was to grow a space studio where we’re able to create sculptures of the prospect that we are interested in, with mediums like bronze, stone, clay, terracotta etc. So with each passing year, we’re getting better at reaching our goals.
As far as this collaboration is concerned, we were very excited because it’s something very close to us, both of us have grown up in Malleshwaram and stayed here all this while. It has been a very good childhood because we greatly associate ourselves with this place, my entire education happened within a 5km radius from Malleshwaram, and I never left. When the news came to me through Yash that this project was going to happen, we inquired and he asked why you don’t work on it, and I agreed and felt obliged.
In terms of our art practice in trees as a memorabilia, I think the most memorable time any kid would have is in the summer, because you’re free and you have the entire summer to yourself with no restrictions. Fortunately, the trees would be in full bloom around this time. So, the seeds that are around, the flowers that are around, the smell of Sampige and the bright colors of Gulmohar, and Mahogany flowers, creates a very fresh, happy environment. The whole idea of us as kids not having any sort of mobiles, for a long time, the only thing we could do then was to get out and play. And to get out and play with whatever you had, the road would be filled with seeds, all these seeds would pop out and fall on the road. As depicted on the wall, one of them is the Cork tree, the really big brown one, the seeds of which the kids would take and then smash, and make a cork ball out of it. People would try playing cricket with it but it wouldn’t bounce, it was completely futile, but it kept us going and made for a wonderful summer. The big red flower that we’ve drawn with the foliage around, the greenish soft seed, found in Malleshwaram, and painted on the wall in our piece, is strangely called Uchekai in Kannada for fun, which means urine, so if you squirt the seed, it smells like piss. And this is another grimy thing that the kids would squirt at each other. That’s a big memory unfortunately, but it is.
That was the start of a memorabilia for every kid, cause I have a cousin who is a writer, he was telling me when I sent him the picture of the wall, he said, ‘Oh I see the uchekai, well it’s a great memory, that I have squirting it with the other kids’
Geechugalu: Being artists in the street art movement, are there any precursors to mural making that you would like to share with an aspiring artist community?
Meghana: I think about making art in terms of murals as well as graffiti, it should be quick and spontaneous. It can be site specific, which would be great, or bringing a lighter moment in a place where it doesn’t exist, or showcasing the exact opposite emotion of what is happening around. I feel that if you have a vague idea in terms of creating a huge piece on the wall, it’s better to take a few steps back and take a look at it, and picture the entire piece if you can, because sometimes what is in your head might not come out the same way on the wall.
That would be good for any artist to sort of visualise how you place things, I think that’s the main key to mural making. Then come in the technicalities of colour, after that the entire finishing on the sort of work you would want to do, in terms of giving textures or different treatments.
But if you can imagine it as a whole wall and in terms of a composition, it would help in figuring out how you can go about it.
Geechugalu: Had there been any challenges that came up in executing a mural piece in a public space in a state of pandemic?
Meghana: We were basically painting in conservancy lanes, and it’s not such a happy place to be in sometimes. Because there are a lot of people who come and have different opinions and they want to just stand there and stare at you. It’s a little hard to sort of get your focus on one thing because you’re always pulled in a lot of directions.
I think that those were one of the challenges and then the fact that it’s a pandemic and you always have to maintain a distance, you’d probably have a completely different take had it not been a pandemic. At certain points, it had worked to our advantage, since people would not come too close, but at the same time, when you’re meeting your fellow artists that is challenging, because you always have to maintain distance, and you never really understand how to treat that entire thing.
Otherwise the main challenges were certain issues where certain people try to distract or disturb you. There was an instance where someone was asking for directions, and while I was giving them to him, he said something really awful to me, something like, ‘what’s the point- you don’t know how to go, you’re painting a stupid wall, and can’t even give directions properly.’ But because I was painting with Dhanush, who was painting just around the corner, it was okay for me and I felt I didn’t have to really break my head over it. It took me aback for a second, but it was completely irrelevant to what I was doing, it really doesn’t matter by the end of it all.
I have chosen to ignore and move on with my work because otherwise, everyone will get to your emotions. I have no control of what comes at me, on the street. Because there are also some reassuring moments where people approach you and tell you that they’re really happy that you’re doing what you’re doing. It actually brightens up the space and your own spirits. So through my personal experience, it’s better to look at the people who reassure you than those who try and irritate you.
Geechugalu: Are there any nuggets with the locals that you would like to share, which resulted in some kind of positive reinforcement?
Meghana: There were a couple of elderly people who came up and said ‘Oh it’s really nice what you’re doing’. There was one particular instance where there was a girl and her mother who were walking in the conservancy road and told me, ‘Oh it’s so nice, that it’s getting painted, because we’ll feel like walking here.’ I was very happy that she felt like that. If we’re able to walk without having the fear of someone attacking us or just trying to trouble us, it would be great.
There was another person telling us that our work was nice, which was reassuring. It gave us the enthusiasm to view things in a different way, and to question things further as to why would someone want to appreciate a wall which nobody would know, who painted it or what they did with it or why they did what they did, because not everyone wants to ponder over such dynamics. Some of them felt so good that a project of this sort was taking place in their locality.
Geechugalu: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of your public art experience.
Meghana: A significant moment would probably be the first day when we came there and started to paint. You lose all inhibitions and insecurities that you have, because you’re doing something in the public eye. It was my first time, I have never painted a big wall before, so this was a completely different experience, I was completely apprehensive of the entire thing at the beginning. Like I said earlier, both Dhanush and I are sculptors first. But the apprehensions regarding taking up a painting job were all gone once we started painting and got a hang of what to do. So that was really reassuring and a good moment to feel confident that we can create. That was a great moment.
Geechugalu: Were there any underlying issues, either societal or interpersonal, that surfaced as a result of your public art experience?
Meghana: I think the fact that how one views an artist, was very different while we were engaged in this project. There was a general reaction from the public like, ‘Oh you’re an artist, oh okay this is what you do? It must be really exciting’. I felt very rare and extinct like a dinosaur, but we as artists do exist, we do our work and we have our bills to pay. When we come out in public and we make art, that’s when people realise that we work hard. There’s a horrible misconception and expectation that ‘oh you’re an artist, it’s like a hobby, I wished you did something more serious with your life, worked in an office or something like that’, which we do, and so does every artist in their studio.
Although, it was good to observe that people realised that we as artists do have plans, we work them out, and we have to work hard. So that was a little helpful in understanding how people view you.
I doubt if Dhanush faced any of these issues because he has done this before, for some odd reason nobody bothers men, I don’t know how, but most men also never get bothered by what other people are saying. I’m not sure how, but it seems to be so. I think he felt very happy that so many people were working alongside us, and he was happy to meet a volunteer, it encouraged further interactions which was very interesting to observe. I think overall, he felt very happy about the sort of work that he got to do.
Geechugalu: Was there a moment when you felt vulnerable or found difficulties during this project? Are there any other places you’ve painted at where you felt similarly? Is there any specific way you dealt with it or wished you would have?
Meghana: A point of a solemn vulnerability that I felt, was when I had to come up with the idea to paint a map and to mark the places about the seasons, the flowers etc. We had come up with a lot of ideas and to be confident in our choice because there are so many options. It is a little difficult when you’re doing it for the first time, you’re always in doubt if your ideas will be too generic or too specific. Because since this is a very special place to me, there was a certain responsibility that I carried, but I feel I am blessed. Ultimately, it was fun to go all out and start doing it.
I think when we were in college, we’d gone to Pondicherry with our peer and friend, who was also a painter. He used to do this annual tribute to people who lost their lives to Tsunami. There we had a task to come up with a sand sculpture, which was a little nerve racking to do in another completely different state, with different people. There it wasn’t a question of what I’m going to make, it was like can I get through the day without being stared at or cat called, and you’re young so you really don’t know how to sort of understand that.
Had I known this had been happening to someone else, I would have been there and told them to ignore it. Because unfortunately I can’t change the other person, that takes a lot of time and effort and understanding from that person as well. So it really doesn’t make any sense for me to fight out, I used to fight it before, but I realised that I was letting my emotions get the better of me. So, I felt like this was not the way to be, so I just let it be and ignored it and continued doing my work. Until and unless someone strategically gets at you, I think you should retaliate, but otherwise you should just keep your focus on what you’re doing. Whichever way you look at it, each person has a different perspective on how they want to look at it.
Ignoring would be my greatest strength, I don’t want to give them that power over my feelings at work. So I think that’s something that I would do, but sometimes it might not be in accordance with what another person feels.
Geechugalu: What were some of your highs/lows or places where you felt that everything came together?
Meghana: The whole situation of the pandemic was so distressing since you couldn’t get out, but this project came as a breather because of being able to collaborate with other people, which was a really nice change, to be able to work with them and generally meet people. It was an opportunity to do something slightly more meaningful than to just sit at home and wait for these times to end.
The lows were probably engulfed in the fact that I couldn’t finish my piece, which was a little upsetting, but I think that should be okay in time and hopefully we can start to finish the work, that would be a good thing.
I had been wishing to work with other people for a very long time, the unfortunate thing is that I don’t get that many opportunities to do the same when I’m sculpting. But when you’re doing liberal arts, you’re getting in the loop to talk about what everyone feels about working in shared spaces.
In that sense, it was a great experience to know that so many people cared about what we do and that everyone was up for collaboration. The space was devoid of any interpersonal issues, which is a very open and happy place to be in. So I felt reassured that it was indeed a great space to work. Most people were very welcoming, also because this was something so new.
Everyone in the team was really helpful, and catered to all our needs, with some great interactions which were very productive, so that was great.
Geechugalu: Do you carry any personal connection with Malleshwaram? If yes, then what have been some of your fondest memories in the space?
Meghana: One of my fondest memories includes going to buy mangoes at the same market where I recently painted at. Buying mangoes is a big event, we would wait for it all year long, and once it’s there, there’s no way to contain your excitement. That’s one major memory.
Another would be going to the ground to play. Also the wall that we currently painted is Seva Sadan, which has been around for a long time. Some of my most memorable times were concerts and performances of artists that I have admired there, especially in classical music and dance. Also meeting my friends who are from around there and going to eateries like CTR which still remains an iconic place for Benne Masala Dosa, which is a great place to go and eat. The mornings at Veena stores, or Raghuvendra stores for eateries and the long lines especially in the winters were particularly memorable. It’s not as cold as other places, but when it gets slightly cold, you feel like nothing would comfort you more than a plate of warm idlis and a cup of coffee which would set you for the day.
So I think the fact that this is such a slow moving part of the city, even in the most hectic days it’s still walkable, very laid-back, it’s not fast- paced compared to the rest of Bangalore and you don’t have a lot here, but you have schools, colleges, places to eat, which mainly include authentic idli-dosa, and you have only that around you. I think it calms you down in a sense, if you’re having a rough time and you just want to take a walk, it would be nice to just stroll around streets where there’s considerably less amount of traffic, than the rest of the city.
A lot of noted musicians from Karnataka are also from around this area, one would be a person called Dore Swami Iyengar, whose house was known to be in Malleshwaram, and a street is named after him. There’s also a street named after one of the doctors who did a lot of work during the 50s or 60s. So in that sense it’s a place of prominence, if you take into consideration Bangalore’s history. Because you’d understand the pattern of migration towards Bangalore, and the reason why it is so. There are two main streets in Malleshwaram, one is Sampige Road and the other is Margosa Road. These roads were made so whenever the Maharaja visited Bangalore and he would want to go to his factory, which is Raja Mills, which is now Mantri Mall, the one road would just be planted with Sampige trees so it would be beautiful, and smell wonderful. And one more would be of Margosa which is like Neel.
There’s a lot of these kinds of small details that illustrate Malleshwaram’s iconic past, including the very legendary Guru Dutt was born in Malleshwaram, and to be a part of it even now and to be able to work there and paint a mural, I think is really great.
I live right behind Dhobi Ghat on 15th Cross Road, so my streets are usually filled with donkeys who have no purpose in a pandemic. The Dhobis used them as vehicles to put away their dirty clothes. Earlier when I was a kid, they would still use donkeys. There are a lot of donkeys around this place.
Geechugalu: How was your experience with Bengaluru Moving x Geechugalu at Malleshwaram?
Meghana: It was a fantastic experience! The fact that there were so many different types of concepts and the way it was composed and put out on the walls, was amazing. I never knew that so many people would have seen it already, since a lot of people who saw this project through various media, have reached out and exclaimed, ‘this is so cool and so nice, how do you guys do this’ and all those sorts of things. So, I think the entire collaboration has been a really wonderful experience for me because I don’t know how many would have the opportunity to work with people who have already been a part of various public art projects and have been doing so many good things. It’s the first time that I think I’m so greatly happy with such a public art experience.