Gazing outwards: To find those who contributed to city, look in the margins as well
We’ve got to look beyond artificially constructed loyalties to see the ways that people have contributed to our societies in the past
Since denners at Bangalore birthday parties of the 90s shouting “London Statue” and graffiti in the city calling for the unveiling of Thiruvalluvar’s statue, I haven’t heard the word “statue” so much as this past week. Growing up in the outpost Bangalore of yore, there weren’t too many public monuments. (I’d hesitantly say, we weren’t ever imagined as a grand city.) In a way, it seemed to me, that statues that were installed in my childhood (or continue to be) were an attempt at correcting the imbalance between colonial figures and city figures on raised pedestals. And I could completely empathise with this urge, because growing up in the city, I’d known about Kriss Kross before Kuvempu, and have come to see that one resonates with nostalgia and the other still reverberates now. Also, I see that knowing both is just better.
Though it was through Sunday quizzing at the Karnataka Quiz Association at Daly Memorial on Nrupathunga Road that I learned that these stony figures aren’t just for the birds of Bangalore. I learned that they marked certain chapters and characters in the city’s different lives. It also rooted the fact, something that as a city and its citizenry we must never forgot, that different people once called this land their home, and some of them still do. In all honesty, until a KQA quiz in primary school, I thought that Krumbiegel was some sweet Telugu statesman and not the German botanist that contributed to our moniker of Garden City. At another quiz, I learned that Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, a German missionary, who became more famous for his study of the Kannada language and compiling a Kannada-English dictionary of over 70,000 words in 1894. Where’s his statue, you ask? It’s in a leafy traffic island on MG Road. Kittel’s statue is a testament to the idea of Bangalore itself, that you could be from anywhere and be honoured here as well if you worked for something bigger than yourself.
Over the many years of living in the city, I’ve also come to ask questions of these figures that dot our cityscape. Questions that have been sparked by my own place in the world, to be blunt (forgive this megalomaniac moment but it is a thought experiment), would the city put up a statue of someone like me? And your answer is no, right? And that’s a very big problem. I don’t particularly desire a statue of myself, it is just that, in order to have a statue in this city or any city, a person must now subscribe to qualities approved by bigots.
In my humble opinion, one of the times, this putting up of statues made sense to me was the time that Mayawati decided to do so. She flipped the script on the conventional answers to the question: Who deserves a statue? She decided that she did because she was a Dalit Woman Chief Minister of our nation’s largest electoral state. She decided that she deserved a statue because she’d scaled these achievements despite being a woman in our country, a dalit woman at that. And I wholeheartedly agree with her intention (but perhaps not her financing of it).
If the project of commemoration in our cities continues to favour upper-class, upper-caste men for their achievements, which shouldn’t be discounted for sure, but let’s face it, the system was already rigged for them to win, then it is a problem. If we’re going to use to the symbolism of a statue to honour those that contributed to the state and its people, then we will have also look to the margins of our society as well. We’ll have to look towards those among us who battled the system to live extraordinary lives.
The kernel of that possibility still echoes in the heartbeat of this city, it must. We’ve got to look beyond artificially constructed loyalties to see the ways that people have contributed to our societies in the past. The trick is to find that beat again, and march to it. Maybe in the future, the biggest statue in the world will be something that many more of us might be able to identify, even a little bit of ourselves, with. Just maybe.
Courtesy: Bangalore Mirror