This is a response to the questions posted on MF Husain and nude paintings. A commenter asks:
“Think if MF Husain has painted your Mother in nude. Can you still support him? If so, it’s ok. But I can't!”
Many commenters had suggested the same line of reasoning. They have asked me what I would do if someone painted my mother in nude. The whole reason why they ask such a question in this episode is the following train of thought:
“Goddess Saraswati is LIKE mother to me; my country India, called Bharat Mata, is also LIKE mother to me. Therefore, portraying Goddess Saraswati or my country in nude is like portraying my biological mother in nude. Since I do not like anyone portraying my biological mother in nude, I do not like to see anyone portraying Saraswati or Bharath Mata in nude”.
At the outset, to those who have not asked enough questions in their life OR to those who did ask these questions but did not wait long enough to listen to a reasonable answer, the above logic may sound sensible.
One could easily extend this line of thought and come up with the following situation.
A person who is drilling a bore well in his property gets raided by Indian nationalists. They beat him up, ransack his home and break up all the heavy machinery that is being used for drilling. In addition, they go to an Indian court filing a case against this man. The reasons cited for such raiding, beating him up, ransacking his house, breaking up the machinery and then filing a court case against this man are the following:
“Earth is like mother to all of us. We refer to it as Mother Earth. Here is the documentary evidence of all poems and mythologies written in our history which suggest that this Earth is our Mother and that she has come to life in many of our stories to intervene in the matters of men. And drilling a hole with this plunging equipment is equivalent to raping her. Therefore, we charge this man with the crime of raping our mother. He should be arrested and convicted on the charge of rape and inflicting injuries to our mother.”
Some of you who have been using some portions of your brain during the last many years may find the above argument a little ridiculous. If that is the case, congratulations, you still have the power to reason, you have not lost all of it to the opium called religion and the heroin called nationalism.
To know more about this line of thinking, read People vs Larry Flynt [Part I, Part II] on this blog. The lawyer in that story says that it is matter of personal taste, not about law.
He puts the premise of the case as:
The question you have before you today is whether a public figure's right to protection from emotional distress should outweigh the public interest in allowing every citizen to freely express his views.
Painting someone nude is a matter of taste, something that should be dealt with by the person who has been painted nude. Lots of Hindu gods and goddesses have been depicted nude in our temples. They stand in provocative poses, much provocative than what MF Husain has depicted them. If you go to a French Art Museum, you will see scores of paintings in which many women are depicted nude. Every woman who has gone into those French paintings or those statues in Indian temples is a depiction of some character – real person, mythological figure, or a symbolic figure. Many of those women are mothers to someone or the other. Goddess Parvati sitting nude on Shiva’s lap, depicted in Ellora caves, is a mother to other gods like Vinayaka and Karthikeyan. Many symbolic and real women are also mothers to someone or the other. In spite of that there are many depictions of those mothers in our literature, temples and mythologies where they frolic in nude and participate in sex, adultery, and seduction.
If we start considering every public icon, every mythological character and every symbolic figure as our mother and thus prohibit all references that can hurt sentiments of people, then every such depiction in literature, paintings, statues, and even in thinking should be shunned and stopped since it is tantamount to depicting and thinking about one’s biological mom in unacceptable ways. With that kind of reasoning, almost every work of fiction, every piece of art, every prose and poetry that has dealt with women in ways that are not appealing to some people should be discarded, opposed and removed, since they deal with a woman who is a mother to at least some people. That spells an end to individual expression as we know it.
If someone out there is saying, “we are not talking about individual’s mom here; we are talking about mom of all people, including me and you”, then you have to decide this first: Are you talking about real moms or symbolic moms? Are symbolic moms same as biological moms? If so, shall we stop all drilling into Mother Earth? If not, why the fuss to start with?
Nobody is depicting your biological mom in nude here and we are referring to symbolic moms who seem to be mom to everyone, not just you in particular. Your mom could be a matter of privacy to you and her, but a symbolic mom is a public figure. Ridiculing the symbolic mom, insulting her, depicting her in nude, deriding her, praising her or worshipping her, are matters that are all outside the purview of individuals and their privacy. It’s akin to deriding a politician, caricaturing a leader, spoofing an actor, and making a parody out of mythology. It’s not a private matter and any ridiculous proposition to link them should be rejected.
If this kind of thought process prevails and starts entering our system, we are going to end up talibanizing India in less than ten years.