Recently I was engaged in a debate with Mr. Akash Ghosh on Facebook. It started this way; I wrote a note on a contemporary fortnight bulletin in Bengali named Unish-Kuri, how they are promoting them and trying to become popular using sex and showbiz spices among the youth of Bengal. Actually the situation is not in their favour now-a-days as the sales for the ABP (a renowned publishing house) are going down and down day-by-day. The political atmosphere in Bengal is too violent in the recent times; students are not getting jobs after passing out from renowned institutions, a 32 year old government is about to be wiped away in the next elections, Santals (tribal communities) are opting for armed struggle under the leadership of a Maoist party etc. These factors are causing this ABP published crap to be purchased only by a group of youth brought up in a family with financial standards above the average. Sometimes even they are not going for these kinds of magazines as they got their Iron Maidens and Judas Priests, sometimes Papa Rochas and local DJs for entertainment.
What is Unish Kuri (Nineteen Twenty if translated) actually? It’s an Anandabazarized mimicry of the American magazine Seventeen. It publishes everything that Seventeen does. Moreover, this magazine even copies the promotional policy of Seventeen. It arranges a Glam Hunt every year which is supposedly a contextual copy of the Miss Seventeen competition. Clarifying the word ‘Anandabazarized’ – Ananda Bazar Publication (ABP in short) has a good cultural reputation in Bengal. So, when they started publishing their youngest magazine Unish Kuri, they added poetry and literature with the Seventeen-kinds-of materials. Actually the magazine was started as a fortnightly for youths where mainly articles concerning culture were used to be published. But as the days went by, the magazine started copying the policy of Seventeen more and more in order to compete in the market.
In the Facebook note, I mentioned an advertisement published in Anandabazar Patrika (the reputed / mal-reputed Bengali daily) of the next issue of Unish Kuri. The advertisement (supposedly the cover of the issue) featured a full page picture of a girl in Black Bra and Blue Jeans other than the contents of the issue. Well, what are they trying to do? Are they now about to compete with the porn magazines like Antorango (Intimate) and Aporadh (Guilt)? ABP, the name or the brand, has an aura. People in suburban area pronounce it with admiration. So, proceeding this way aren’t they trying to corrupt the youth of suburbs in the name of selling cultural products??
I’m not a patriarchal motherfucker. Rather I support and promote an unusually liberal approach towards sexuality. I dream of a day when it would become possible for an Indian to kiss in public without hesitation, without being noticed in a ‘Bad’ way. I dream of a day when it would be possible to make love on soft bed of grasses under the wide open sky without being interfered. But I can’t support the commoditization of naked-woman-skin as a spectacle.
Sex sells, I agree with the point. Moreover I’d like to add that it is the eldest of all provisions other than farming and hunting. But look at the state policy; we have registered porn magazines like Aporadh and Antorango, we have access to thousands of porn websites, we have fashion channels and nude scenes/sex scenes from foreign movies on TV, yet we have no licensed porn film industry in India. Back in 2005 I guess, the govt. has legalized prostitution i.e. the selling of sex but it did not legalized consuming sex. Which means the cops won’t be harassing the prostitutes anymore but they are likely to harass each and every customer of them if seen to be coming out of a ‘red light colony’. I support the selling of sex for earning money for the one who needs it but I don’t support the procedure of promoting a product or a service using woman-skin. It’s not sex but a sexual pretention is sold by the capitalists to promote their products. Indian govt. does not allow advertisers to show completely naked woman/man body though it is rather related to art than obscenity. What the advertisers do is to gain attention by showing half-naked young girls. The suspense of the revealed/unrevealed part of a female object is thus sold to the public innately voyeur and believe me it has got nothing to do with our past.
Sometimes we construct our past, that is, the past of India as a land of spirituality and open sexuality. For the second kind of reading, we often cite examples of Khajuraho, Konark Sun Temple, Kamasutra by Vatsyayana and Gita Govinda by Jayadeva etc. Well, this is a very popular way to construct the history as you like it by including and excluding the events and factors accordingly but no one really counts the origins while citing examples like the above. A king or an artist may have spoken for open sexuality and all but that doesn’t let anyone consider open sexuality as a mass culture in ancient India. When we construct the past like that or say that India was millennium ahead in sexuality before it lost its culture in the hands of the British colonizers actually we overlook a number of documents concerned. I’d like to refer to Manusanghita here. This famous Hindu law book admits killing of a woman if found guilty of being engaged in sexual relationship with a man other than her husband. Manusanghita says that in such cases the husband has the right to kill them both without being subjected to common law of the state. I guess we have not forgotten about the ‘Chaturashram’, the general laws of how a Hindu shall spend his/her life. The first stage mentioned there is ‘Brahmacharya’. It says a man shall not have sex or even sexual intentions until he reaches the age of 26. Even in Ramayana Rama decided to disown Sita just for there was a chance of her being impure, that is to say, being involved in some adulterous relationships while she was held in the forest by Ravana. As far as I know, there was a little space for open sexuality in some tribal community (I can’t remember the name). The community had a ‘Pratha’ (custom) named ‘Ghotul’. According to this custom, teenagers, both boys and girls, were allowed to spend days together in a village where they could choose their fittest sexual partners by having sex with each other. It was a kind of sex festival for teens. This is an exceptional case anyways. My friend, if we were that much open about it we would not have to confront the strong feudal patriarchy in our day-to-day lives. Just think of where we are standing today. You are forbidden to have pre-marital sex, you can’t spend a night with your girlfriend in one bed, you can’t even close the door on the face of your parents when your girlfriend is in your room, but, you can watch half-naked Aishwarya Rai or Deepika Padukone or Bipasha Basu dancing on your big TV screen without hesitation. Some half-literates mistakenly consider this to be modernization and liberalization of the society. Believe me, it’s rather a hypocritical interpretation of the terms. It’s a mockery, a mimetic tendency of the colonized mind provokes us to interpret the modernity of the western society in that way. Well, monkeys do mock human actions, don’t they? In his Tintin in Congo, Herge portrayed all the black men with a monkey-like face. Do you remember the ending part of it?
I’m not here to speak for the Hindu conservative ideas. I’m only citing them as examples to break the idea of ancient India as a land with scopes for open sexuality as it seems to be when one speaks of Khajuraho or Kamasutra. There always have been two faces in representations in the Hindu mythology --– the face of Krishna and the face of Rishi Gautama, that is to say, the face of sexual fantasy and the face of feudal patriarchy. I guess everyone remembers Rishi Gautama who turned Ahalya into a stone after finding her guilty of having sex with Indra, the king of gods. The popular version of Ramayana by Tulsidas never clarifies the fact but it can be found in the original version by Valmiki or the translations of the same. When we reconstruct our past in favour of open sexuality actually we are looking through the glasses of a western historicist. We were largely ignorant of our past until the enlightened colonizers gave us light and spoke of it. Thus we came to know about the spiritualism, sexuality and their places in the ancient society. As far as my knowledge is concerned, sex was neither glorified nor kept in a closet in those days. It was healthily discussed in open in the days of ‘Baishali’ or ‘Gandhar’ as it should be. Free-sex did exist but it was not mass culture, so to speak, not available for all. You see, the Bengali word ‘Naagor’ has originated from ‘Nagar’. ‘Nagar’ means city and whoever lives in ‘Nagar’ is a ‘Naagor’. But what meaning does the word ‘Naagor’ convey? It refers to the man who consumes sex, that is who can consume sex. Now, who can consume sex? Of course the man who has the money above the average people to consume it. These people usually used to live in the ‘Nagar’ (city) and thus the word ‘Naagor’ has constituted the meaning concerned. The Kings, landlords and the businessmen who used to visit prostitutes regularly were usually referred by this word in the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The word is still often used in the same context. This is to say that the idea of consuming sex or having free-sex, so to speak, was strictly confined within the upper class and had nothing to do with the mass.
Poetry and literature has always been a space for manifestation of one’s sexual fantasies in any language. One shall not refer again and again to Sanskrit poetry and literature to prove the point of open sexuality in India. Take a look at the history of literature in any language. It has always been like that. The religion has always tried to impose taboo and the artists have always broken the limits and boundaries. But where does India or Bengal stand in this map? Coming to a rather recent occurring in Kolkata in the autumn of 1964, six Hungry Generation poets and litterateurs were arrested being charged with obscenity in their writings. Well, I’m quite a fan of Hungry Generation literature and I’ve never found anything obscene in their writings. Rather I’d like to consider this movement as the one and only avant-garde movement in Bengali literature. In the following ten years another writer has to face a same kind of allegation against two of his novels --- Prajapati and Bibar if I’m not mistaken. Samaresh Basu alias Kalkut alias Bhramar was a rather mediocre writer of insignificant popular narratives if compared to the H.G litterateurs. In 1985, Prajapati was finally spared of all the charges by the Supreme Court of India. Samaresh got the support of the famous poet Buddhadeb Basu who stood by the H.G litterateurs too. But Samaresh actually never had the money to go to the Supreme Court and it is heard that it was ABP itself to provide the needed financial back-up. The character of Satyajit Bose in Ghatak’s Jukti Takko r Gappo was supposedly based on Sasmaresh. I’d like to quote Nilkantha Bagchi’s (played by Ghatak himself) statement on him here, “Satyajit Basu, my friend, he started as a socially committed writer and sales pornographies today to earn a living”.
Later on, came Mr. Buddhadeb Guha, the maker of midday sleeping doses for the middle class wives. He is an honest person though and a good singer. He has stated several times that he is not a writer. It was the Ramapada Chowdhury who promoted him and compelled him to become a writer when he was in charge of Desh Patrika. After that Tilottama Majumdar, Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bani Basu, Poulomi Sengupta…..starting with Mr.Sunil Gangopadhyay, the boss of all, the list of mediocre writers selling sex for ABP goes down to Sangeeta Bandopadhyay till date. Taslima Nasrin is also included in this list. She could create some social turbulence with her blasphemous stance but she is not an exception more significant than that.
It is not only a point of polluting the art or the poetry with malicious commercialization, it’s a time when each and every definition is being radically changed and reduced to financial concerns primarily. The concept of a respectable man in India too is often being mistaken with the concept of a man who has got a good bank balance. If things go on like that and if we go on blaming the people and the society meaninglessly like we do, soon it will be a time when we will be unable to answer the representatives of the generations coming after us. The same thing happened in the 1970s. Won’t we ever learn to learn from the history??
Resist! That is the end line.