Should we have statues?

“Call no man happy till he is dead.” – Aeschylus, Greek statesman and orator (BC 455-361).

This is perhaps the oldest statement on the dead being happy. But, now even the dead are not left undisturbed. Take the latest report from Madikeri, Coorg. On November 15, 2011, tension prevailed as a shoe was found hanging from Field Marshal Kariappa’s statue. This led to sporadic blockage of roads in the town and call for bundh on the following day. According to local officials, the fence surrounding the statue was left unlocked – the lock having been broken six times – and the miscreant could be a mentally unstable person or a drunk.

Statues are rooted in ancient civilisations, as Horace, Italian poet (BC 65-8) testifies: “Marble statues, engraved with public inscriptions, by which the life and soul returns after death to noble leaders.” But, installing and maintaining statues, tombs and memorial monuments can cost a great deal of public money to support the family or parochial ego.

It is against this background that the NDA government on August 16, 2000 decided to stop the practice of samadhis for national leaders built and maintained by the public exchequer. In the Raj Ghat area of Delhi, the cost of maintaining memorials doubled from Rs. 2.7 crores in 2006-7 to Rs. 4.47 crores in 2010-11. The cost at the time of construction was Rs. 1.2 crores for Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat and Rs. 21.13 crores for Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperambudur in Tamil Nadu. The annual maintenance bill for the Rajiv memorial was Rs. 15 lakhs in 2009-10. This year, Rs. 2.5 crores has been allotted for the upkeep and improvement of the memorial.

A note by the Ministry of Urban Development had said in 2000 that the time had come when the job of raising memorials of leaders could be left to their followers, fans or family members or to trusts. It said that in no other country is there such a tradition to commemorate the birth and death anniversary of national leaders at the expense of public exchequer on such a large scale. But, now there is a new excuse – these places have become tourist attractions and thus justify public spending.

But, the basic point about statues is that they are not only open to vandalisation by mentals, alcoholics and plain cranks, but also by crows and pigeons. In a bhootakola, a Tulu worthy, whose statue was in the town’s centre, was asked by the possessed dancer (Pammada) what he would like to do the first thing if he came alive again. Prompt came the reply: “I would shoot all the crows and pigeons which sit and shit on my head”. That points to the expense of keeping the statues spit and span with sustained maintenance.

We have to protect statues even from admirers. In Mangalore, we have the experience of the spectacles on Gandhiji’s bust, at the traffic island across the Corporation headquarters building at Lal Baug, repeatedly stolen. Now like the missing locks in Madikeri, Gandhiji bust at Lal Baug is without spectacles. (When I questioned a cop about the missing specs, he told me that Gandhiji may not be wanting to see the bribary that is going on in the massive building across the road. I didn’t tell him that he may not also like to witness cops taking bribes from motorists). US Mallya’s statue at Kadri had been in a state of utter neglect for years till a private sector corporate painted it in silver colour and upgraded the surrounding garden patch.

Despite the Madikeri vandalism and the need to protect statues with police patrols, there is a call to install Cariappa’s statue in each town of the district. Kodagu Kshemabhivraddi Sangha convener, Major BA Nanjappa (retd.), has said that people in the district should take an oath to install the statue of the Field Marshal in every town across the district. He said that ZP should strive to get a government order and grants for installing as many statues of Kariappa in Kodagu. He should hear what George Gordon Noel Byron, English poet (1788-1824) had said:

So let him stand, through ages yet unborn, Fixed statue on pedestal of Scorn.

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