HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMADNU: She stood in silence facing the wall. Everyone looked at her inquisitively, gradually she revealed herself — she was wearing a mask. She glided forward, took a few cabbage leaves with a chit in it and handed those to some in the audience. The paper read ‘Pet ite chou’, which is a French term for endearment. This literally means — my little cabbage, my dear and my sweetheart.
Then performance artist Smitha Cariappa began writing a true story of an 11-year-old Princess Gowramma, daughter of the exiled raja of Coorg. In 1852, when they left they were the first Indian royals to leave their native land for Victorian England. She was considered exotic and interesting and was groomed by English guardian.
Cariappa then held a bowl of jelly, and with a spoon scraped it out from the bowl revealing princess Gowramma’s photo. This illustrated how like the jelly the princess had adapted to the new atmosphere — you can mould jelly the way you want it to.
Cariappa unfolded the princess’ story. Queen Victoria was really fond of princess Gowramma and made her her goddaughter. With this the princess was baptised and worked hard to please her guardians, but was always in search of cultural identification. Later she got married, gave birth to a child. The princess’ sister had a happy married life with a Nepali. But princess Gowramma didn’t live to see a happy life. She suffered from tuberculosis and died at the age of 23. This saddened queen Victoria and had a gravestone for princess that inscribed ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold, she always wanted to unfold and fly’.
This entire story was narrated by Cariappa in her performance art through objects that you see in day-to-day life especially food, as for her “food is metaphorical”. Cabbage represented the princess “which showed the irony”. Cariappa also used wheat dough, red wool among others.
It was not easy to fathom what Cariappa tried to narrate initially, but weaving the threads together and with a little bit of patience, you experienced the sad story of a princess wearing layers of mask to please everyone.
The artwork was titled Organic Ginger/ Natti Sunti (alter ego of Princess Gowramma) on April 11 in the main courtyard of Baber Mahal Revisited. It was organised by The Siddhartha Art Gallery and The BP Koirala India-Nepal Foundation.