The old settlement near the Durbar area in Patan unwraps as you follow through the stone-paved lane to Banglamukhi Temple from Mangal Bazaar. To the right turn from Newa Chhen at Kulimha Tole and some more distance into the low ceiling corridors brings you to artist Manish Lal Shrestha’s studio and home.
As he takes us in to his abode, the paintings and artworks at the entrance and doorways, staircases and at the most unusual places guarantee that we have come to an artist’s treasure tove. His small studio beside the balcony is the place where one can find his contemporary artistic and antique treasures put together in an interesting harmony.
“These antiques inspire me to create more extraordinary works,” says the artist. “I take these old things, learn from them and create anew.” He adds that he does not just cling to the old things but see the significance of the old through modern times and necessity. “These antiques teach us the levels of skills we have to attain to create such quality works.” He believes that there is a lack of learning from the old pieces of art, the past implications of our culture and the history of our existence.
Fascinated by bells and used as the primary impression for a long time in his art, Shrestha says that everybody is evolving with their work and creations. “But all modern things are influenced by the antiques,” he argues. “And if we stick to our heritage, we’ll be creating more original works.”
Shrestha further elaborates antiques as the presence of reality in our hands. “It tells us about the time our forefathers lived in, it’s like a window from where we can understand the process of making, realize the hard work put into it and likewise work in the present,” he says.
But he still resents that he could not preserve as much as he could. “Even the windows and doors of each house of the Valley had so much to tell but all of us have started to modernize our homes and totally forgotten their values.”
He says that as an artist he has to live in a cluster of antique and modernity, and he hopes to open a museum someday with all the objets d’art he will be able to preserve. “It’ll be my dream project,” he says with an air of determination.
This piece of smoking pipe has a special place in its owner’s heart. When he had painted his grandmother’s portrait in 1997, she gave him the traditional hookah pipe as a sign of pleasure and blessing.
The hookah, which belonged to his grandfather, was a symbol of his presence for grandmother and she had handed him the pipe believing that he would always preserve it and bestow enough significance on it, as much as she did. “It was as if she entrusted me with her golden memories,” he says.
Painted on paper with watercolor, Shrestha says that the painting depicts the universe. The artwork completed nearly half a century ago by Batsa Gopal Vaidya is inspired by the tantrik art but has some characteristics of the contemporary art.
“We can see the basis of contemporary art in the painting,” says Shrestha.
The artist assumes that the sculpture of the angel riding over to the whale dates back to more than 150 years.
Resting on a Tibetan box in his studio, the fine cuts and depths of the sculpture resembles that of carvings of the old temples, says Shrestha.
“I always get delighted by the skill of the artist who carved this beautiful sculpture on a wooden block,” he adds. It had been neglected after his house was renovated but he had found it afterwards in some corner of the old square.
He found this decorative wall hanging, a piece of the memory of the old house in the square, along with the angel sculpture. The carvings define the same skills as the sculpture bears.
“I can’t see any such kind of refined carvings nowadays,” he says. The decorative piece has already been broken at various parts which Shrestha has managed to keep intact by gluing the broken pieces together.
“There must’ve been plenty of these in the old days but as people started demolishing old houses and building new ones on top of it, these pieces of art were thoroughly neglected,” sighs Shrestha.
“This was a present to my mother from her brother,” he says as he takes out the necklace from an old box and lays it down in his hand for a clearer view.
The necklace woven out of 10-paisa coins, red beads and small pieces of cloths has the capacity to outdo any designer jewelry of modern times.
Simple yet elegant, the coin necklace signifies the fashion statement of the old days.
As Shrestha hands out the sacred papers with something like mantras or anecdotes of gods, it is hard even for him to recognize the alphabets in those papers.
“My grandmother used to own this and I believe that she read this,” he says as he tries to look deeper into the texts and tries to figure out even a single letter from those papers.
He concluded that the holy papers bore ancient Newar inscription as it resembled little to the Ranjana Script and a little to Sanskrit.
Pair of khukuris
The finely made khukuri knives with its birth date and place engraved on it are thinner and yet heavy. The scabbards, however, are more interesting than the weapons inside.
He bought this stylish pair of table set in 1996-97 when he was an art student in Bombay.
The seller told him that it belonged to the cutlery of Mughal kings who once had ruled many parts of India.
“I didn’t buy it at an antique shop, though,” he says with a mischievous smile. “I bought it at the Chor Bazaar [thieves’ market].”
Gold checking stone
“My grandmother used to rub pieces of metal onto it and used to determine if it was gold or not by the shine it produced,” he says.
Though he is not sure about the type of stone or where it has come from, he believes that its judgment was reliable.