Ludmilla: Living a Dream

Features Issue 57 Jul, 2010
Text by Prerna Rai / Photo: ECS Media

Elfin. Gregarious. That’s Ludmilla Hungerhuber. For someone who loves of it in the Garden of Dreams. Squirrels scurrying amidst the busy medley of people, Ludmilla, Project Manager of the Garden of Dreams saunters and speaks about the project and her life. With articulation she juxtaposes a theatrical bend of mind, “Architecture has always fascinated me. I express my creativeness through the stage settings I design for STUDIO 7 at the Vajra, it is like living a dream as an architect which I am not. The difference lies in the truth that after the play, the sets collapse and all that remains are some pictures and memories. My involvement with the Garden of Dreams is as close to permanency as it can get.” Besides her work, Ludmilla has been collaborating with Sabine Lehmann of Hotel Vajra  and staging plays for the last 25 years.

Ludmilla talks of how the Garden of Dreams stood neglected for 35 years. In 1997, Austria’s Foreign Minister of State, Benita Ferreo-Waldner, visited Nepal for the opening of the Patan Museum, and the predicament of the Garden of Dreams at Keshar Mahal was brought to her notice. It was after an exhaustive period of preparatory work and a feasibility study, the final bilateral agreement was signed between HMG Ministry of Education and Sports, and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002. After restoration, it stands as a superb example of historical landscape architecture and will be open to the public from October 8th with a series of inaugural events for two weeks, but the project will be completed only next year.

She elaborates, “All the greenery you see is the result of hard work and perseverance for the last six years with a competent operational and gardening staff specifically trained for the long-term maintenance of the garden. Whether this crew will continue to be employed once the fully renovated garden is handed over to the Government is not yet certain.  But I sincerely hope they will be kept because the Austrian Government is also very insistent on the long-term sustainability and quality of this landmark project. To generate sufficient revenues for its upkeep, the garden thus will charge entrance fees (with special low rates for children, elderly and disabled people), will have a cafe-restaurant and a bar, and offers highly attractive venues for cultural programs as well as for private, corporate and diplomatic events. It is unfortunate that the western portion of the Garden has long since disappeared, taking with it three of the seasonal pavilions. The Nepali calendar has six seasons and each pavilion was dedicated to one of them. By sheer co-incidence when the authorities were on the verge of destroying the fourth one, Karna Sakya  (the convener of Visit Nepal Year 1998) and my husband happened to pass by and immediately reacted by contacting the concerned Ministries and officials to stop the demolition.”

Ludmilla’s relationship with Nepal has been long, evolving with opportunities and circumstances over time. It started with her visiting a friend working for the Bhaktapur Development Project in the late 70’s, her extended visit culminated “which was just not enough.” She was back in 1980 with a job secured as assistant to the Project Manager of Bhaktapur Development Project, the now renowned architect Götz Hagmüller. Fifteen years later, she was married to the man. Waiflike, with a full-throated laugh, she summed up in not so many words, “It was a very slow development!”

She soon met Sabine Lehmann who at the time was directing a play for the German Embassy and looking for someone who could speak the Bavarian dialect. For Ludmilla Hungerhuber, it was a call and the beginning of her association with theatre in Nepal for the past 25 years. Sabine and Ludmilla are recent recipients of an Award from the Nepal Centre of the International Theatre Institute ITI/UNESCO on their 25th Anniversary. Ludmilla says, “The achievement was worth it, we have been so involved in theatre and for such a long time. At last our efforts were recognized.” When it comes to theatrics, she and Sabine are inseparable, “we are one half of the other. I wish to be strong enough to carry on with theatre for as long as I can.” Nostalgia sets in as she recollects fond memories of staging Satyajit Ray’s “Gopi and Bagah” in 1993 and bussing B. Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” from Nepal to Kolkata with a stage troupe of 25 members. She loves the “magical realism” genre and speaks about the awareness amongst youngsters today doing street theatres and commends Gurukul for their excellent work among others.

Studio7 took their very successful “Threepenny Opera” to the National Theatre Festival, Kolkata in 1988. The whole theatre ensemble at that time had 25 members, actors, musicians and light manager. The trip had been arranged beforehand in detail. It was a two days/two nights trip—rooms were booked on the way..... “But we never made our daily goal. Our bus was packed up to the roof with sets and props – and the sets were iron sets, so heavy that the bus could only crawl along, in order not to fall over. I don’t know where we reached the first night, it was impossible to find hotels, but we somehow got one room where all the girls could sleep and the boys in front of the door. And it went on like that. But we were in high spirits, like on a continuous party the whole way. It took us four days and three nights, the last night sleeping on the bus – and then on arrival in Calcutta, we got stuck under a railway overhead bridge, so that we had to rearrange our whole roof load to make it through. In the meantime, trains were passing over our heads. We finally made it – and on time with the help of a friendly policeman who escorted us to the Academy of Fine Arts; we had gotten utterly lost in this big city. And then the fun really started; we only had a few hours to build up our sets and do a quick run-through, since at a festival it’s one group after the other. We met Habib Tanvir, who staged ‘Sone Sagar Chandaini’, Teejan Bai with her narration in song and dance of the Pandavas, a wonderful 101year old Rajarambhau Kadam who, surrounded by his children and grandchildren was singing and dancing episodes from the Puranas; there were groups from all over India and Bangladesh. It was a wonderful experience. On the way back to Kathmandu we made a side trip to Puri – but that was another adventure.....”

Ludmilla Hungerhuber and husband, Götz Hagmüller reside in a private historical Math (former residence of priests) in Bhaktapur since 26 years. One could expect exquisite taste by them in redoing the Math, which has a Shiva shrine in it and religious functions take place. It belongs to a guthi and has been sought out by plenty of interior magazines, but Ludmilla prefers it to be a private sanctuary. “In the past, there have been reporters who have barged into the house, but for me it is an invasion to my privacy. If anyone wants to see our work, the Patan Museum and The Garden of Dreams stand testimony.”

The couple compliment each other. Ludmilla says, “As a husband and wife team we work very well. It is a great help if one can get along in a relationship. We have the same tastes.” While completing this project, they are already engaged in Bhutan to transform a Dzong (fort) into a museum.

Having no children of her own, she and her husband have adopted the son of their housekeeper belonging to the Newar community. He is 16 years of age and studies in Shuvatara. Ludmilla says he is the link between two worlds, bridging the gap between the differences in culture. 

Speaking on the addictive aspects of Nepal, she says, “There are a myriad facets of Nepal: the architecture, the landscape, the people. Having spent so many years in this country, the one constant over the years has been the people.  They are extremely tolerant, warm and accepting to the extent they willingly include you in all their family rituals and open heartedly let you be a participatory member in their religious ceremonies.”

Ludmilla pursued pedagogy and has years of experiencing working with special children, bringing out the best in them through theatre.  “Theatre is an ensemble where everybody counts. One person makes a mistake, everyone has to be spontaneous enough to mend it. It is here and now. That’s why I love the theatre so much.”

Ludmilla Hungerhuber concludes: “I wish I had more time and space for myself. I love to travel extensively”.