Places are people to me. I vehemently assured a friend of my knowledge of Mumbai, because I had listened to “Piya Haji Ali” (Fiza, A.R.Rahman) and Marine drive can just wait. Don’t mistake me for claiming prior knowledge of Mysuru for I have read R.K.Narayan. It is amusing that my mind didn’t associate the Kannada land with the likes of Kuvempu, S.L.Bhyrappa, U.R.Ananthamurthy and now Vivek Shanbag, whose works are considered to be of more literary value in comparison. Is it because Bhyrappa and the likes wrote more about the inner voyage of the human mind than the striking simplicity of the world outside? You cannot blame my younger self, the gawky kid trapped in a small town for her assumptions about people and for her preference to spread her wings and explore the tangible. But, it is never a binary, is it?
Standing on the upparigai (front porch) of R.K.Narayan’s spacious home overlooking , I was convinced that R.K.Narayan had no choice but to be a story-teller. As I walked the semi-furnished cozy home, I figured that RKN had perhaps built a world in his oyster, quite like the imaginary Malgudi. Losing his loving wife, whom he married against the wishes of his family (horoscopes didn’t match!) and his children under tragic circumstances, how did the man who tickled and troubled us with his narrative skills manage to hold on to his sanity? The red-oxide tinged mosaic floor, winding stairs and the sun-light streaming through the huge windows with its white railings held more secrets than I could fathom. As for his writing abilities are concerned, RKN spills out the secret, if you want to call yourself a writer, write 1500 words, daily, period.
Thousand five hundred? I just finished a ‘short’ counter petition for 3100 words excluding the cause title. Does it count? How does one squeeze out one thousand words dripping of creativity? How many hundreds of those’d be accepted as creative enough by the literary world? How many tens of those would time chew and spit? These are hardly the questions an artist needs to ask herself. At least, the artists behind the sculptural extravagance of Somnathpura Chennakesava temple didn’t think so.
One colossal stone lotus blooms from the ceiling and from that spring a thousand little stone lotuses in every cornice, surrounded by buds connected to each other making an infinite chain of concentric stone knots, making a colossal stone lotus again. In the teensy petal of the inner most crevice of the almost invisible stone flower is an intricate stone carving that takes your breath away. Is stone-heart still a rebuke? If only stone-hearts could become stone-sky to stone-sea, stone-blooms to stone-flakes and stone–dreams into stone-art, it may well be a compliment.
There are delicately carved friezes depicting battle scenes, where no two horses or elephants look alike, leave alone the soldiers in every imaginable convolutions, all in the height of a ball-point pen. The pineapple-shaped lathe carved pillars, adorning the navranga mock at the amorous couples and apsaras on the bas reliefs in the walls of the mandapas. What was running in Mallithamma’s mind as she crafted the life-sized statues of the comely Krishna with an enigmatic smile, playing his flute and wearing his usual attention seeking nonchalance? Were Masanathamma and Chameya jesting about the possible reaction of the future moral polices at the sight of the amorous human figures entwined with each other? Why dream in stones? What could have driven the artists and the patron, titled Somnathpura Dandanayaka — the commander of Hoysala ruler Narasimha III, to import chlorist chist and indulge in it limitlessly?
As my cousin, my chirpy travel partner, and I got back to Mysuru via R.K.Narayan’s home to our hotel, passing the gurgling lakes and the blurring trees, the mystery of words and stones unraveled to us. Nothing, no words, no pictures can justify the overwhelming beauty and the exceptional artistic will displayed. The only compliment to art can be its knee-weakening timelessness. So it is with places, and, people.
Note: Mallithamma, Masanathamma, Chameya, Bameya are some of the sculptors who worked on the Somnathapura Chennakesava temple whose names are inscribed in the temple complex.