Last year around the same time in the month of March I last visited the Heritage Village in Manipal. The space was almost set to open itself for public viewing and despite his weak health the visionary Vijayanath Shenoy, a connoisseur of music, arts and theater, whose brain-child Heritage Village is, was seated there amidst the structures which were a witness to history. Heritage Village was a dream unfold on that soil for Mr. Shenoy and he would descend there everyday to see his dream world being grounded on earth.
Spread on the land next to the lake from which the town of Manipal derives its name, the Heritage Village envisioned by Vijayanath Shenoy is a museum of its own kind where traditional structures of the bygone eras stand to speak of history. Each structure saved from decaying in its place of origin and resurrected in Heritage Village hold within themselves stories of their times. Apart from the houses of the feudals, the brahmins, the Deccani nawabs, the spaces of Basel Mission along with shrines of bhootas and nagas, the Heritage Village also house the original paintings of Thanjavur and those by Raja Ravi Verma.
The seed form Heritage Village was Hasta-Shilpa which Mr. Shenoy had originally built for his own stay. Within two years of its construction in a traditional way he walked out of the house and turned it into a museum. As a child I was taken to Hasta-Shilpa more than once by my father. Though I understood nothing much those days with time upon reflection I realized that everything in a house, like the pillars, the roof, the plates, the doors, the chairs, hold within themselves stories and history, about which Mr. Shenoy would speak passionately to every visitor. By the time this realization dawned upon me Hasta-Shilpa had closed its doors to visitors. Soon the idea and dream of Hasta-Shilpa began to flower in a larger and grander way next to the lake which is a bit distant from where Hasta-Shilpa stands, by the name Heritage Village.
For long Heritage Village was not open for public. But we all heard that Mr. Shenoy would allow artists, journalists and researchers have a look at the Heritage Village which was still under construction. Those days I also heard, from a person who used to teach me back then, about the eccentric nature of Mr. Shenoy and his temper issues. But later through the contact of the same teacher who by then was my colleague, I made quite a few visits to the Heritage Village in the pretext of taking the resource persons who visited our Institute to the Heritage Village. During those visits I witnessed the eccentricities of Mr. Shenoy who would be angered if one looked at the Heritage Village like watching a museum or saw it with the eyes of a tourist. He demanded deeper engagement with love and respect valuing it the way he did. His anger, I realized then, was just a reflection of his passion and his love for what he was doing. It was a labout of love and he had sweated blood for it. He would throw out people from the Heritage Village if one took out their camera while touring the village. The experience of it, he believed, should be lived and recorded through engagement and not through recording.
Things had changed a bit during my last visit to the Heritage Village which was made possible by my friend Srajana, a curator herself, who had grown close to Mr. Shenoy. The man who envisioned the place was not healthy enough to take the visitors around. That made cameras come out here and there. That day a journalist from Bangalore was also visiting the Heritage Village and at the end of her visit requested Mr. Shenoy to pose for a photograph with her. A man who was accompanying her clicked a photo as Mr. Shenoy got up from his chair posed for the photo. The photo captured only their silhouette since Mr. Shenoy and the journalist had their backs to the sun. Having a look at the photo in the camera the journalist saoid, “Because of the sun behind us the photo hasnt come well,” and asked, “Can we move a bit to the other side for the photograph?” Mr. Shenoy whose movements were not easily possible asked, “Cant we move the sun to the other side?” and laughed as he stepped to the other side with the help of the journalist and posed for a photo.
The man who moved the neglected decaying but valuable materials from distances to Manipal, restored them and thus saved them from decaying when playfully spoke of moving sun from one place to another I was amazed to see a lighter side of the man and also wondered if he had, after all these years of rigorous work, come to believe that he could move anything from anywhere and plant it where he wanted. People who have known him wouldn’t be surprised he actually made the sun move according to his need driven by his maddening love and passion.
He whose life was to save things from decay, damage, destruction has been grabbed by death today. But he will continue to live among those structures and the history within them, which he did not let die.