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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1585

Sunday Celebrity:Mani Nagappa: sculpturing and vintage cars his love

By Gopal Ethiraj, Chennai
Chennai, 14 September (

Mani 1.JPGChennai city is dotted with statues. Almost every road has one or two. Every half a kilometer you encounter one. Probably because the city has a noted sculptor. Mani Nagappa. There was his father Rao Bahadur M S Nagappa in the 30’s and early 40’s. And sculpting has come seven generations down in his family.

Mani Nagappa is in the limelight for more than 60 years, created top name for himself in the act of sculpting, since his father’s death in 1942. His work is appreciated and he has admirers in countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries.

His name is in the news of late. He is the maker of the Thiruvalluvar statue that was installed in Bangalore on August 9. This was the job he bagged 18 years ago, and was to be installed by the then Chief Minister S. Bangarappa. The local objection came, and it was stalled until now. The 400-kg statue was made at total cost of Rs 3 lakh way back in 1991

Mani 2.JPGMani took more than six months to complete the statue, including the model in clay mould in Chennai. He personally took the statue to Bangalore, 18 years ago; he remembers the arduous task, the transportation, the stalling, the long wait and all.

“I never thought I would live to see the day of inauguration,” he said. It happened. And he was there, although ailing at the age of 83. He was ignored, not honored or his name not etched on the pedestal. Perhaps the time laps gave the go-by. But both respective CMs exchanged mementos.

However, the slip was found out soon and Mani and the his peer Ms. Pramodhini Deshpande who sculpted the Kannada poet Sarvagna’s statue were honored silently later.

Nagappa has created over 200 sculptures, mostly of prominent personalities, in his long career and continues to do so. But no other statue has been clouded by controversy like this one. However, the octogenarian was thoroughly relieved that the world would get a chance to view this creation. “I would give full credit to the Chief Ministers of both States for ensuring the event actually takes place,” he adds.

About the Thiruvalluvar statue work, he says, “ Everybody knows his work and couplets, nobody knew of his image. I had to do a bit of research and study to make one that would be acceptable.” The standing posture of Thiruvalluvar statue at Vivekananda Rock at Kanyakumakri is not his work.

Vintage and classic cars, his hobby

Mani’s other interest is engineering, automobiles and sports car in particular. He is proud owned of half a dozen vintage cars. He is the chairman of the Vintage and Classic Vehicles Foundation of India, and holds vintage car rally in the city and elsewhere. Buying and restoring the vintage and classic cars is his hobby.

He likes to mould metal as much as he does with clay. He has a team of technicians to do the restoration process. Now and then, he swings the hammer a bit to instruct his men how to fabricate parts for, say, the Mazda or the Skoda Roadster, whose spares have long ceased to be in the market. "It is in my genes to grasp the essence of an object and replicate it. I derive a thrill from sculpting a rundown car to shape," he says.

Mani’s studio is located at Anna Salai near to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s Poultry Research Station. It calls no attractive attention, a faded name board. But a famous name. Step in, you are greeted by great leaders—Nehrus, Gandhijis, Ambedkars, Rajivs and Indrajis and corporate leaders (statues)—and work is going on briskly, for the orders are plenty for him.

Inspired by his great father

How was he inspired to become a sculptor, although he did not have formal education in the art? Of course, his father. From generation to generation for over seven generations his family has been in this fine art of sculpting. “For me sculpture rates high above all other arts like music, dance, drama, literature and so on. I do not know whether it a blessing in disguise to be in this profession. But all I know is that I'm proud of it. The works that others do will be forgotten, but mine will live on forever. Such a unique talent in sculpting has been given to me by my forefathers.”

His father Rao Bahadur M S Nagappa had inherited this talent from his ancestors. In the 1940s, he was mostly encouraged by the British and was a celebrated sculptor. He sculpted Maharajas, Governors and Lords of England, in his time. Except for Munroe's statute, the rest of the statutes like Lord Chelmsford, Lord Irvine etc, which were found all over the city and other statutes in his time have been made by his father.

The statue of King George V, which is located at the War Memorial near Fort St. George which houses the Tamil Nadu government’s Secretariat, was M S Nagappa’s work. The King himself had decorated him when he did his statue. Lord Govindas , a wealthy business man those days, commissioned the statue and presented it to the King on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee celebrations of his accession to throne.

A photograph of the finished statute of King George was sent to England and M S Nagappa got a personal hand-written reply from the King himself. The letter read " I have been posing to get my likeness from a local artist with my personal sitting which has not been very successful, whereas you have brought an immense likeness with just my photograph and that too within such a short time. So, we decorate you with the title 'Rao Bahadur'.

The king also appointed Nagappa as official sculptor and a coat of arms was given to our studio to show this. The government consulted Nagappa on anything to do with sculpture. “My father made many statues in marble and bronze. He was the only sculptor to work with marble during his time and was very good at bringing the features out.”

What made him take up sculpting? He worked 14 years with his father. It was he who taught him the basics. When his father died at the age of 52, he was 18. “My other brothers were not as good at sculpting as I was. I seemed to be blessed with the talent. But I was more interested in engineering and I liked sports cars in particular. In fact, I assembled a car of my own. I was forced to take up my father's profession.”

His first chance

One day an order for the statue of Dr Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, the then Vice Chancellor of University of Madras was made. That was just after his father's death. His brothers tried to make a statue of him, but they couldn't get it approved. The order was almost on the verge of being cancelled. At that time he was in the film industry, choreographing and directing with the famous actor Ranjan.

His mother forced him to take up the task of doing the statue, and save from the situation the company was sinking. He had a personal sitting of Dr. Mudaliar. The statue made by him was cleared by a group of committee members, which included the then Mayor of Madras. That was how he started; otherwise he would have strayed into some other line.

He makes statues mostly using bronze, ferro concrete and marble. Marble can be used only for certain poses, he says. To do a statue in a standing pose in marble is very difficult, as it would not support the weight of the head and the shoulders. “I select the material according to the pose and also the budget. Bronze is chosen again depending on the pose, while ferro concrete is chosen for a cheaper budget

For Mani Nagappa sculpture is very important for recording historical facts. “For me sculpture is above all the five arts, since it is three-dimensional. As one can tell the age and time during which a particular sculpture is was made. In those days, the only media to preserve memories was sculpture, right from the 'stone age' to the 'metal age'. Stone carvings made centuries ago help us find out about the art and lifestyle in those ages. And if you were to dig and find a bronze statue, you can find out the era and style in which it was made.”

Mani feels sculpting has become cheap today. “If there is any sculpting to be done, the government is calling for tenders. In sculpting, you should first understand who is who? Not one who can make at a low rate. This is not like building a bridge. These are statues that decorate the city. Today these are tourist attractions and tomorrow they will be historical reminders of today's world to the future generation and will be proof of our culture.”

- Asian Tribune -

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