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The Libertine

 

PRASHANTO BANERJI, FEATURES EDITOR, THE SUNDAY INDIAN | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Prashanto Banerji | Souza | Husain | Salman | Nasrin |
 

What right do you have to take away my right to bring women – people I have known as friends, family, lovers, teachers, a country and maybe even as God – to life on my canvas, with my vision as the brush and my blood and sweat for paint?

What right do you have to take away my right to write of confessions and guilt, perceived or real; of . my gods, false or true; or of my beliefs, agreeable or not? They are mine, to share and defend, to honour or offend.

What right do you have to take away my right to put together a tale on film or mail that tells what I know is true and good? It is my tale, my truth and my belief in our good.

Mere shadows on screens and paper on print, they are no demons to fear, nor gods to revere, just my world for you to share… if you care…

I want you to see all that I do. Tell me you like it. Or maybe you hate it - an encounter you rue. That is ok, for it is your right to criticize and condemn what abominates or hurts. Shun it, lampoon it, scoff at it for all I care. Tell the world it isn’t worth their time from every rooftop in everywhere. That is your right as much as it is mine, for from those very same rooftops, I too have my soul to bare.

No, I don’t hate you. I like you in fact. Like Jacob and the angel, we too have our own age-old pact.

If the wondrous world is the whisk that churns this buttery soul, separating beauty and glory from the dull, the dreary and the mundane, then you, my savage critic, are the earthen pot that keeps this beauty and glory together, from spilling over and losing myself on dirty sullied ground.

Turn away from my words and wounds, and if you must, urge the world not to stare, but leave me my voice; don’t choke me with fear, that wouldn’t be right. That wouldn’t be fair.

I could go wrong. I will give you that. We are Lotharios given to seducing the senses, and syphilis be damned.

The hands could grow veined and old but the soul is young and brash, my passions wild and strong. They keep me warm and fed through hungry nights that are dark and long. They are the light, the way, the guiding star, but it is I, I blame, if I follow that light into dark alleys where I do not belong.

Open a window, tell me I’m lost. But don’t block my path, my freedom to roam. For how else would I learn to find my way home?

Sometimes I wonder if you really are sincere. Is your hurt felt, or do you feign injury? Do you fling burning barbs in hate and fear, or do you pull me down so you could a little taller appear?

Hounded by these questions are the ghosts of Souza and Husain in another world, and the fans of Haasan in this; tormented too are a Salman, a Nasrin and three nameless girls as the ever-quiet moderate majority stares unwittingly into this claustrophobic bottomless abyss. 

But I blame you not for your excesses as you too must excuse mine, it is the government that must protect your right to dissent as it must my right to call my god a name,  or wear on my shirt his sign.

My noble critic, I absolve you of your sins, for like a river without banks of law, you can’t help but flood my world with your whims. I look to you, yes you, my man in ‘the house’, who took my taxes and my vote to bring me my rights, to fight my fights, to keep me safe on angry days and fiery nights.

Don’t wash your hands yet again, O Pontius fair. Don’t crucify justice and hang my free tongue on a nail up there. This nation shall one day learn to read and then your time will be done. The adventurer and the puritan shall coexist, but your impotent greed will come undone.

I wait for a day when we’ll truly be free; of prejudice, bullies, bigotry and other petty demons; when with the love of knowledge and the knowledge of love, we shall all the above overcome.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017