All that bling
- We adorn historical monuments with shallow, sometimes modern, accoutrements as if we were trying to make visible the advances we have made from when the monuments were created
Feb 13, 2015-
Canopied by the dusky hue of Kathmandu and its foggy pollution, Rani Pokhari is ablaze with multi-coloured sprinklers. I think to myself: this is probably most uncharacteristic of the pokhari. The effects do not go well with the solitude of the architecture—the temple, in the middle of a pond, has always been the most reassuring symbol of “being quiet”, for me. To my extreme dismay, the quiet is broken by the main music track of the movie Titanic! I do not know who decided to execute this cruel joke on one of the most important historical monuments in the Valley, but if I were to find that person, I would be very glad to strap that person down to one of those hideous looking plumbing works that are supposed to create the illusion of magnificence. The pipes are visible in broad daylight, and they look like an eight-year-old’s school science project. Actually, I am sure, school kids would have done a better job.
I start wondering what history classes will be like in, let’s say, a few decades. “Rani Pokhari was built in blah, blah by blah, blah king for his blah, blah queen. Blah, blah is the significance of the architectural sophistication executed to blah, blah. A famous poet had once written a poem about how Ghantaghar was gazing at the pokhari. The pokhari can be analysed from a gendered angle of power, passion, possession, and blah blah.” And then the teacher would likely go on to add, “The pokhari was set on fire, metaphorically, in 2014-15 AD, because blah, blah decided to make Kathmandu beautiful. The blah, blah lighting effect is accompanied by a popular, Western, romantic track of a Hollywood movie. You must remember this last detail for your exams.” The children would be taken for a field trip to the pokhari and shown the plumbing work surrounding the pond because they would have to recreate the design for their classwork.
I suddenly start worrying about what else is going to be added to structures such as Rani Pokhari, and whether that process of adding appendages to the spaces and structures of the Valley shows that we are losing our minds. There can be no other reasonable explanation for this outrageous audacity.
Will the Krishna Mandir, in Patan Durbar Square, be encased in 3D screens that will continuously project the movie Avatar? Or perhaps, the Dharahara will be transformed into a gigantic spray can—of the sort used in parties and celebrations—to mark a public holiday? Or maybe the dilapidated Sohrakhutte pati will be given artificial limbs and intelligence so that every time someone spits at it, it will spit back and start dancing to an EDM track.
The city—with all its privileges and poverties—is after all, a space constructed with history embedded in it. We cannot deny the fact that this history is perhaps the history of the elites and the victorious, and every time we pass by a palace or a park, we are reminded of the past. But there are also other histories within this cityscape. We need only look a little bit closer and fine grains will start to appear. There will be a crack in a skyscraper; there will be a rotting door in a corner alley; and there will be that shop that has been in that locality for the past god knows how many years selling that particular delicacy.
If you look much closer, you will notice a man in his fifties sitting in a corner of the street opposite Rani Pokhari. He is a man of meagre possessions but his demeanour is magnificent. For the past two decades, he has been sewing and repairing shoes of the city dwellers. His story is also a part of the Valley’s history. He is no space, he is no structure, but he has dimensions and he has narratives that are equally as historic as the pokhari. The only difference is that the pokhari is helpless in front of the designer, who, because of his relatively powerful position, decided to beautify and strip away the pokhari’s meaning; but this man, no one can dare make a move at him. He will come and go of his own will. He needs no lighting effects to make his mark on others.
The sad reality is that we adorn historical monuments with shallow, sometimes modern, accoutrements, as if we were trying to make visible the advances we have made from when the monuments were built. And in this process of obliterating any form of meaningful significance and possible interactions that could have taken place between the people and the spaces of the city, people such as the man repairing shoes nearby becomes invisible to us.
Published: 14-02-2015 09:24