At IIMB, some of us, in the second year of our MBA, have taken up a course called Tracking Creative Boundaries. It is run by one of the best professors of our college, Prof. Ramnath Narayanswamy, whose course about business in the context of society and modern government, I had the privilege of taking in the first year, and who was once ranked one of the best management educators in the world in a prominent magazine.
He lends very minimally to the course, though. This course is unique in the sense, since it is helped by an external group, the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA); they arrange for artists, established in their field, to come and deliver a lecture to us, on their lives and why they chose the life they are leading now, and how their background had, at times, influenced their choice.
This course is not meant for the budding artists among us, but rather for people like us to understand artists. And what I mean by that, will follow from below.
There are a few things common to all of them, even though they are quite different from each other. All of them, without exception, know what they are out there to do. This concept of knowing what to do is so alien to me and a lot of my friends, and we spent years figuring out what to do, settle on something but still are unsure about what to do, and yet we would be scared of moving away to find out what we should really be doing.
This comes out so starkly when we speak to each one of them; many of them had spent years doing something, theatre for example, before getting out of bed one day, and decide that this is just not them, and leave their past behind, and set out to search for their “destiny”. How many of us can actually do that? This is a little ironic since, we are the trendsetters of the nation, or atleast we are supposed to be, and when did a coward ever become a pioneer?
Maybe I am condemning us too soon. But, the truth of the matter, is that many of us are averse to risks and are content to live templated lives. I am also guilty of the same charge.
These enriching experiences are accompanied by class exercises to help us strengthen our vision for our lives and rooting out our weaknesses. Something that is vital for us, but which most of us still think is just mumbo-jumbo.
But, of all of the personalities we met, I want to talk about Arjun Raina, or rather the message he brought us. His message was something that concerns all artists who perform in India.
During the class, he read out one of his plays that he had recently written on Delhi 2007. I won’t talk about what issues the play delves into, but the main point was that the play involved nudity.
All plays in India are governed by the Dramatic Performances Act of 1876. (This link is a Pakistani link, but the law is the same.) Using this act, the government can dictate what can be displayed in a play and what cannot, and if the law is flouted, the people involved can be put into prison for upto 3 months or fined or both.
This act came into being because of the plays being displayed in Bengal at that time, which had depicted conditions of the people at that time, and was obviously putting the administration in bad light. Using these plays as a powerful medium, dramatists were taking messages of oppression far away and were rousing feelings of anger and rebellion. Seeing the effects theatre had on people, the British administration clamped down all such activity in 1876 with this law. This law, as much as I could research, is still applicable in other subcontinent countries.
So, before a play can performed, the district collector has to approve of the play. If he doesn’t approve, the play cannot be performed. So, even before the play is shown for the first time, it is killed because a disinterested police-officer (who will most probably come representing the district collector and see the play for approval) thinks its indecent.
This means that an artist before creating his creation, is already saddled with unwanted constraints. He has already removed the possibility of making some kinds of artwork, because of the possibility of his physical freedom being constrained. Or, if he decides to create them anyway, he has to prepare himself for the huge cost that the law of the land has imposed on him.
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Even when there are no laws against a particular art-form, there are self-appointed vigilantes in our society who take it upon them to sanitise our cultural sensibilities of such “offending” material. A sad incident (Other news articles on the net can be found here.) that took place recently in Baroda, in which a student of the Fine Arts Department at Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, or MS University, Chandramohan, (he was also the only Lalit Kala Akademi award winner from Gujarat in 2005-06), displayed graphic paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses which prompted local “representatives” of a national student body to disrupt the proceedings of an examination while Chandramohan was manhandled and later arrested. Moreover, the University did not extend a hand of support to the student and refused to bail out the student.
But, it is heartening that the students of the department (news article) have rallied around him and so did his dean, Prof. Shivaji Panikkar, and other University faculty, who refused to issue an apology on behalf of the student and instead, stated that the authorities are pressurising him to do so. After this incident, the dean was suspended by the management of the University. He is apparently in hiding now, and later, the Fine Arts department had been sealed. The story only has gotten worse with time.
Hindu art has always incorporated eroticism, and it was only at the turn of this century did they portray gods and goddesses in clothes. Interestingly enough, folk art even today depicts gods and goddesses in such “derogatory” light.
All this not in a corner of the country, but in the most respected portals of art in the country.
This is part of a larger issue in the country. Even now, when people recognise that the authorities in power have no standing whatsoever, moral or legal, it is hard to detect a concerted voice against this in the public arena. Many opinions have been expressed against such laws, and some quarters in the government have also made some attempts at reform.
It is sad, that in an “enlightened” culture, such as ours, we still do not recognise the freedom of an artist, his need to be critical of the establishment and the system, or as Mr. Raina puts it, “…the need for an artist to be subversive.”
So you see, when he asked us whether he should perform this play, everyone in the room knew, he couldn’t perform the play as it was meant to be, in India, even though the characters were based on Indian history.
Which brings us back to the title of the course, Tracking Creative Boundaries.