Mysore – August 2011
The Van Ingen and Van Ingen company, Artists in Taxidermy, was run on this site since the early 1900s.
When I was last here in 2007 I could still pick through the dusty abandoned workshop. In its architecture you could still trace the workings of the taxidermy factory. Sheds for gutting. Central offices behind glass. Big machines with fan belts. Skulls and trophy samples. Lines and lines of concrete moulds, all numbered and coded: lion, bison, panther, tiger… The sculpture work of my forefathers, of Dutch descendence but an ethnic minority of Mysoreans since the 1800s.
Arriving in August 2011, I return to Mysore and to the family house. I stand, disorientated by the big gaping hole where the factory once was.
Near the JCB, the project manager is on the land.
“A shopping mall”.
” There are already 3 in Mysore. This will be the fourth. The biggest. A Forum Shopping Mall”.
“And the contents of the factory?”
“We got orders to demolish and excavate, and so we did.”
“What about the skulls and the moulds?”
They lead me to a patch and point, “Elephant teeth”.
Hunks of jaws jutt out of the ground.
Brittle bits of bone, among the mud and rubble. An elephant’s graveyard. An elephant’s graveyard under a Forum Shopping Mall.
I’m an idiot for thinking it was all safe, waiting unchanged as it had done for a hundred years, as long as Great-Uncle Joubert was still alive.
When did they start demolishing? “On a Monday. In july 2010.”
One year off. So it goes. …
I ask to come back with a pick axe and dig. They’ll ask for permission they say.
So we made an appointment for me to come pick through the rubble for the bones from my ancestors’ factory.
I find Uncle Joubert, now 99 years old, marooned on his verandah in the family house, adjacent to the Shopping Mall site. He’s still wearing his khaki hunting gear, living in the “boys'” room where he’s resided his whole life.
“Hello. Have you seen any new birds?” Yes, I mime (he’s deaf).
“Do you have a good pair of binoculars?” No.
“I had some, the bloody rogue smashed two pairs.”
“They took my fishing rods too. Salt water fish. Huge fish. 60-70 pounds.” (The Van Ingens, still recently, held the record for the biggest Mahseer fish ever caught. In his room there was a photo of 5 men holding it up).
“Did you see the polo match? They flew the malaysian team into Mysore. You didn’t see?”
“Did you play polo?” I yell and mime.
“No no. I can hardly even walk now. Stupid question. Now run along now.”
The main drive to return to India was to gain access to the crumbling piece of living history that is the Van Ingens and their taxidermy empire. To salvage the moulds, the sculpture bases, and document this strange chapter of history.
I knew that once Joubert, my last surviving Great-Uncle, was gone it would all be dismantled fairly swiftly. What I did not expect was that it would be gutted, dismantled and bulldozed around him as he sits wild-eyed and shouting about polo, fishing rods and electrocution on his verandah.
He’s gesticulating from his chair, whilst across the yard the family house is crawling with construction workers. Behind him the taxidermy factory has been bulldozed. Where the line of workshop buildings once were, is now flat and desolate.
A JCB, rubble and a puddle.
So it goes. . .