A trip to Malenadu

Oct 13 2019

Copyright © 1993- Ganesh H. Shankar

I just needed to get off the busy Bangalore train. It was not a well planned trip, decided in a hurry. I got up very early that day, about 400 kilometers to drive and alone. The destination was, my photographer friend, Adithya's home - Simha Farms, a peaceful place in the heart of Malenadu region where I spent my childhood days.

The drive was very enjoyable. Old music of 70s in the background and monsoon mood outside. As we move away from busy Bangalore life appears to slow down. Shepherd with his 50 odd sheep and a stick in hand walks at the same speed as his sheep on the road. I get to slow down too since sheep don't know that I am from Bangalore and am in a hurry! Did the life of sheep change during past 50 years or is it only ours?

Getting off national highway, I continued on narrower village roads. I enjoyed navigating through herd of sheep and buffaloes. Being a photographer, the other thought running in the mind was the subject for the photography during my stay at Adithya's place. This time I also had a new toy in my camera bag, a medium format digital camera. Medium format digital cameras are a different beasts. These cameras help you slow down a lot (if you like that). Instead of FPS (frames per second), specs of medium format digital SLRs talk about SPF (seconds per frame), well that was on a lighter note! That said, the images typically have what is called "medium format look".

What is "medium format look"? I can answer this question using another question - "How does a cashew tastes?". If you are not a (serious) photographer you may ignore this. If you indeed are as mad as me, then it is a long conversation, may be for some other day. Let me just state here that, full frame 35mm digital SLR sensors are very small compared to a full frame medium format SLR sensors. Medium format cameras can produce quality of files, one per couple of seconds, which far exceeds those produced by 35mm digital SLRs in all respects - shadow details, dynamic range, color reproductions, mega pixels. However, it is not meant for shooting deer hunting sequence of a tiger at 20 frames per second or even a bird flying. Anyway, it is a bit boring to talk about those technical details. I am sure Google can do much better than me in explaining all these. The point is, what subjects to explore during my stay that can exploit the strengths of a medium format camera?

As I entered Malenadu region past Ayanur near Shimoga, the atmosphere suddenly changed. It's now green everywhere and started raining. Smoke coming out through tile roof from a kitchen from a nearby home evoked so many memories of past. Long back, when I was in my teens roofs of many homes were thatched. Later they made away to tiles and now to concrete. Having lived in Malenadu region for couple of decades I am very familiar with people, their homes and the culture. There are still a few old homes left in the place where Adithya lives, including his own. Many of my relatives live in Malenadu region. I thought some of those old homes may be a good subject for me to explore. Torrential rains during monsoon and very cold winters made earlier generation build their homes in some way. To keep the inside rooms warm they kept very small windows in rooms. Many homes then never had power supply. Air conditioners and room heaters were not heard of. Except the first room all the other rooms which follow the first one were hardly lit. When I was a kid we enjoyed playing hide-and-seek games in my relatives' homes. I think those homes have character of their own. Can I explore photographying some those homes?

I am now very close to Adithya's home. I had to take a deviation due to a bridge collapse this year due to heavy rain. That delayed my arrival by a few minutes.

Finally, I have arrived!

It was so refreshing to be away from concrete jungle. It was time to take some rest after a long drive.

Had a peaceful sleep at Adithya's home yesterday. Today's plan is to visit Adithya's parent's home at Biloor for some photography.

Biloor is just a few kilometers away from Adithy's home. The Biloor bus stand with a single stone bench looked interesting.

Portrait of a Passenger

Torn card board nailed to the tree above probably had "Biloor" written on it, or I just assumed. A bus zoomed by. No one in the bus cared about the bench, no one on the bench to care about the bus too. I just gently pressed the shutter release.

Was my subject physical or imaginary? I was not sure. In my mind, the empty bench and the tree created a portrait of an unknown person who would wait for the bus. In that sense my real subject is imaginary. Is that a self contradictory statement? So be it.

The sky was turning darker and it would rain soon. I quickly packed my little baby (camera) to keep it safe.

The plan then was to photograph some moods of the old home where Adithya's parents live. We arrived at Adithya's parents' home. I must thank Adithya and his parents for letting me photograph their home. Udaya Simha, Adithya's very enthusistic father is an accomplished artist. It was my previledge to make some images at his home, an interesting art gallery itself. My sincere thanks to his support and help.

Everything in the home appeared artistic, be it a painting on the wall or the walls themselves. I made a few images. Please note I don't want to increase the brightness or contrast of *any* of these images. They have been carefully exposed to render them how I saw them. Little bit of light seeping through windows and crevices is what made these images to me. I had a very sturdy tripod to expose them for hours if needed. It is easy for me now to pull the levers in Photoshop to brighten them too. That would kill the moods of the images and my expreience! You don't need to like these images, just trust my judgement :)

As I moved inside the home, everything appeared interesting. I was not sure what to include or exclude in my frames. Staircase to the first floor was very inviting. If it were well lit then I think those lines and symmetries would not have been that prominent. The window light seem to have selectively touched lines of pillars and edges, beautifully. I think the silence and mood stood above the technical merits related to proportions and symmetries.

Window light and symmeties

A few years ago, when I use to actively make prints of my photographs I bought a calibrated light source of 5000 Kelvin to view my prints in that light. While technically that helps to view a print in "daylight" to appreciate the nuances of an art work, as far as an artist is concerned she may not have that limitation of seeing her work only in 5000K light. A work of art takes its birth in the mind and heart of an artist. An artist may not need a visual representation of the same (and hence the light) to "see" them. Often the purpose of creation may be an inner need than to display. An artist will continue to connect with the work when the work is hung on a poorly lit wall or mounted under a broken glass. The connection she will have is deep, intense and personal.

My sincere thanks to Udaya Simha for showing me his works. The connection between a work of artist and the artist herself is very sacred and a compelling subject than my interpretation of the works on the wall. Just imagine the invisible artist in these frames, amidst the portrayed silence.

A Chair in Artist's World

BTW, if you feel like opening the shadow region of the above image, you may please do so better by downloading the very high resolution of the image here! Right click on the image, download and view it at actual size in Photoshop. That may also give you a feel for quality of medium format files. You may checkout the definition of eyes in the portraits hung there on the wall! These files have been prepared to make prints. Small 1300 pixels web version is at best a good joke.

Art under a broken glass

Door latch chain

This below room and a bed was very moody and made me philosophical. There appears to be an inexplicable silence.

Portrait of a room

Not just the explicit art on the walls, I was facinated by these two steel water pots under the window and ambience of the rest of the room.

Steel pots beside a window

A few hours just passed without my knowledge. It was about 12:20pm as indicated by a barely lit wall clock in the above image. It was time to say thanks to Udaya Simha and his family members. The plan for the post lunch was to visit another home at a place called Jatti Mane, Adithya's wife Anusha's home. We had a quick lunch and reached Jatti Mane.

Again, my sincere thanks to wonderful people who let me, an unknown outsider, to make a few images at their home.

As I entered, I felt the room spoke volumes which I could connect with very well.

The above image summarizes many things for me. In these village homes at Malenadu, we often see photographs of couples and their kids spanning four/five generations. The support structure in a family in villages was very strong during previous generations. In cities, at best we will see a photograph of the one family. The faith in the religion, belief in the God was deep rooted. Great grandmother to great granddaughter lived together in a house and on the walls. Sense of art, aesthetics, beliefs, realities of life, social structure, purpose, everything came together beautifully well on the wall. The nail on a wall to hang a cloth (as seen above) is a necessity which beautifully co-exists with frames of the people and the God. This reminded me of my own home during my childhood days. I don't think 5000K light source is a necessity of the family to see these frames on a wall. They can remain in unlit walls. Make no mistake, frames need to be there, however. Opening shadows in Photoshop made no sense to me, for these images.

I assumed the ladder in the below image leads to a warmer room above in the home. The light through the window beautifully highlighted contours of a fallen empty plastic oil bottle of the sewing machine. Time seem to have etched its signature at many places in the room.

The next home in the village we visited was Manjunath's. I found it so interesting that we visited his home twice. The flavors of Malenadu were seen in every inch at his home. Light seeping through in oblique angles beautifully emphasized the texture and traditional art on the beautiful mud walls. Time seem to run at a different pace here. Years seem to overlap and co-exist. I just loved that. Thanks to Manjunath who happily permitted me to make an image of him. Areca nut and chewing beetle leaves ('Kavala') are part and parcel of life in Malenadu region.

A thought occurred, how would it look like if I make a canvas print of the above image at life size and hang it next to it?

When I exposed this below image my camera was on a tripod with shutter open for 20 seconds.

Light was just magical at his home. How beautiful the light is! The subject that is part and parcel of our life, the lesser mortals, continues to haunt scientists and artists forever.

Last Light of the Day

Light and Gods

Light and God, is there any link between them? Who knows! One thing is certain, there is a lot more to life beyond these light laced frames. Or is it?

It was getting darker. No light left! We thanked everyone and returned back to Simha Farms.

I got up at 4:30am next morning and started driving back to Bangalore. My sincere thanks to Adithya, Anusha and everyone whom I met.

What a memorable trip it was!!

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