Saturday, May 12, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Exporting erotica to France
By Khushwant Singh

I OFTEN wonder what kind of society we when the temples of Khajuraho and Konark were constructed. In those times, as it is today, temples were not only places of worship but also places where people socialised, exchanged gossip, arranged marriages and transacted business. Around them grew bazaars, markets and dwellings. Town life centred round them; worship was only a part of the citizens’ preoccupation. It must have been a very liberal society, the like of which did not exist anywhere in the world.

Things changed with the advent of Islam and Christianity in the country. They were puritanical faiths which regarded erotica sinful. Hindus imbibed Islam and Victorian attitude became equally censorious about matters concerning sex. Some were ashamed of their ancestors’ frank portrayals of sexuality; others tried to explain them away as spiritual exercises. This is nonsense. In most temples that have erotic sculptures, there is nothing spiritual or mysterious: all forms of sexual variations, homosexual, lesbian, even intercourse with animals, can be seen. The one thing Khajuraho and Konark have in common is artistic excellence: the sculptures however explicit, are extremely beautiful. We don’t have to apologise to anyone for having and cherishing them. I have no patience with the new ‘morality’ which has assumed epidemic proportions in our country. Banning books, destroying paintings, censoring films because they are in conflict with the prevailing religious prejudices, are unworthy of our liberal past.

Celebrating old age
May 5, 2001
Guru-chela parampara
April 28, 2001
What the world owes to Jainism
April 21, 2001
Exercising the mind with books
April 14, 2001
The great Maharaja of Punjab
April 7, 2001
Storm in a chat show
March 31, 2001
Paying the price for being upright?
March 24, 2001
World’s changing morals
March 17, 2001
A Chinese Nobel Laureate living in exile
March 10, 2001
Tagore’s offerings of love
March 3, 2001
Where has one come from?
February 24, 2001
Most educated Indians are bores
February 17, 2001
Sensing disasters before they strike
February 10, 2001

Europe has gradually liberated itself from Christian puritanism. You can see explicit illustrations of our Kama Sutra and sexual artefacts in bookstores and shops selling antiques. Our modern-day artists who like painting erotica but are nervous of exhibiting them in India are finding outlets abroad. The prominent of these is in the heart of Paris, next to the School of Beaus Arts known as The Gallery Mohanjeet. Mohanjeet Grewal, who has a flourishing business in the garment industry, opened this art gallery eight years ago to give Indian artists opportunities to exhibit their works to Europeans. She started with Calcutta’s Shuva Prasanna. Thereafter, she had Sunil Das, Raza, Balraj Khanna, Dhawan, Shakti Maira, Probir Gupta, Shahabuddin and Anjolie Ela Menon. Next week, she will launch a new series of exhibitions "Eroticism in Contemporary Indian Art" with paintings by Neeraj Goswami, Paresh Maity and Subbanna. They will be followed by Manu Parekh, Ranvir Kaleka, Shipra Bhattacharya, Sunil Das and Balraj Khanna. What these artists dare not show for fear of vandalism in the name of Hindu dharma will be seen in Paris.

How old is old?

I read about a lawyer in Haryana who has been in the profession for almost 80 years and is still handling briefs of his clients. He is 102. I have no idea how he has been able to keep himself physically and mentally alert to this long age. Our ancestors, who did not live as long as we do, thought 50 was long enough for an active life. They prepared themselves for vaanprastha to be followed by sanyaas. The classic case that comes to my mind whenever I ponder over the problem of the age at which we should retire is of Sher Shah Suri. When he defeated Humayun and became the ruler of northern India, his one regret was that he was too old to rule such a large kingdom. In his memoirs he wrote, "Allah in His wisdom granted me the empire of Hindustan at the time of the maghreb (evening prayer) of my life. He was then only 52. He died a few years later.

More startling was the case of poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). He was a handsome young aristocrat, a reckless fornicator and loved good living. In his classic Don Juan, he summed up his approach to life: "Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter/sermons and soda-water the day after."

He sensed the shades of mortality drawing close to him when he was barely 33 years old. He wrote in his diary:

Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume,

Labuntur anni, —

(Alas! Posthumous, how fleeting years slip past but I don’t regret them so much for what I have done, as for what I might have done.)

Through life’s road, so dim and dirty,

I have dragged to three-and-thirty.

What have these years left to me?

Nothing — except thirty-three.

Three years later he was dead.

All said and done, what is important is not how long a person lives but what a person puts in the years given to him or her, Sultan Sher Shah Suri is remembered as a great builder of three-lined roads with serais along them. The Sher Shah Suri Marg which runs across the country from East to West is a living tribute to his memory. Lord Byron who lived only 36 years remains one of the most loved poets of the English language.

Thoughts on love

Urdu poets divide love into divine (Ishq-i-Haqiqi) and love for humans of the other sex (Ishq-i-Majaazi). I regard love for God a spurious concept which borrows its vocabulary, at times even erotic, from genuine love between men and women. I read a lot of love poetry. My raakhi sister Prema Subramaniam, who works in New York with Barnes and Nobles, the biggest chain of bookstores in the world, keeps sending me poetry books which she likes. She also marks passages I should read. Her latest gift is Love Poems by Charles Ghigna. I had never heard of him but he is apparently a well-established poet in America. From the short note about him, it would appear he is a Black living with his wife and son in Alabama. His approach to love is refreshingly new:

Your eyes are the sea

Upon which the ship

of all my dreams

sets sail

When the beloved is away, he/she leaves a void which is hard to fill: everything reminds the lover of the missing beloved:


not this closet night,

not this need

to count them all;

no, nothing,

not even this writing time

to kill this time

can fill your shoes,

your soundless steps

that walk this house

without you.

True love encompasses everything around one:

It would be easy

to write of love

if I could build

a mirror

in every poem

and hand

each one

to you.

Biblical puns

A father was approached by his small son, who told him proudly, "I know what the Bible means!" His father smiled and replied, "What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means?" The son replied, "I do know!"

"Okay" said his father. "So, son, what does the Bible mean?" " That’s easy, Daddy. It stands for ‘Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.’"

(Courtesy: Indian Currents)