Elephant Graveyard becomes Mysore Forum Mall

Mysore – August 2011

Taxidermised Tiger

The Van Ingen and Van Ingen company, Artists in Taxidermy, was run on this site since the early 1900s.

Image of the Van Ingen Factory and it's staff in 1923, from Pat Morris' Book

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.

Casts from the taxidermy molds

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.

site of the taxidermy workshop

Current construction site

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”.

Plan for Forum Shopping Mall

Plan for 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.

Shopping Forum Mall construction site

Elephant Tooth

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.

Mold: Bison neck


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.

The "Boys" Rooms

“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.

Forum Shopping Mall construction site

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.   .   .

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8 Responses to Elephant Graveyard becomes Mysore Forum Mall

  1. Artúr says:

    amazing. good digging work! keep it up!

  2. Russell says:

    Very sad to see the old factory gone, should have been preserved as a museum,full of Van-Ingen taxidermy !!!!!!! SHAME ON YOU – Prestige group ??

  3. Kate says:

    What a story. There is a repetitive cycling, a poignancy, an anger, a turmoil. My thoughts turn along the lines: the bones and mold’s absence still allows you to think what they mean to you – what they have meant – why was it so important to see them, be there again. Not that I am asking you to bare your soul, just suggesting that your partial disinterment on site can keep its psychological momentum – what if you wrote some further notes now, private perhaps, while the memory is fresh? Maybe this would lead to a symbolic turn so you may weave this circumstance into your own personal thread of history-in-the-making.

    I find it tempting to be angry and bitter – like ask how many representations of tigers will stalk the mall as balm, toys, posters … and where are live elephants now … I don’t know enough about Mysore, but Joubert’s ‘boys’ room’ gave me a point to start from for sure!

    This is a first response, I’m sure what you have written will set me thinking. I wanted to ask if you knew a book, Resistance by Barry Lopez, and a slim and composed geographical volume, called Anticipatory Histories … perhaps over the next few days I should say what bearing I think these books have – or simply send you copies.

    Much love, as you unearth what is haunting you, Kate

  4. jethrobrice says:

    Thanks, this is fascinating, my mind is full of questions, I want to know more… there are so many strands here. Would particularly like to hear more about your own thoughts/feelings, on untangling the traces of your family’s home and history, and how your new encounter relates to those that have been…
    Great to see the responses to your essay – have you been in touch with Pamorn?
    Keep it up! J

    • Pat Morris says:

      “Van Ingen & Van Ingen, artists in taxidermy” by Pat Morris (2006) profusely illustrates the old factory and tells how the work was done. Available from MPM Publishing, West Mains
      Ascot SL5 7DG UK. or via the websites of the British Historical Taxidermy Society and Coc-y-Bonddhu Books..

  5. Hi,
    Can I get in touch with “idlis”? OR idlis, can you please e-mail me?

  6. ALDO says:

    I have Pat Morris’ book. It’s amazing book telling the story of the even more amazing Company of Van Ingen in Mysore. It’s interesting to see what has happened to the site and sad to see that the factory has been destroyed to become a shopping mall. Thank you for your story and the images.

  7. myslite says:

    Oh no. feel too sorry about it. Yes a museum would have been better.

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