This is going to be awkward. But as a responsible citizen, I will have to state it and bring it to public notice. At the crossing of Indraprasth Marg and Sikandra Road in Delhi, an area that I pass almost every day while going to and returning from work, there is a medium-sized billboard. It’s
been there for at least a week now, near the overhead tracks where the Metro train runs overground, and not far from the masjid and Hanuman mandir on the other side of the road.
I’m afraid I can’t go into the details of what is depicted on the billboard. It is simply too offensive to be described. But let me just say that the image, available on view for anyone who wishes to see it, is deeply offensive, hurtful and — what’s that other word? — insensitive. It shows, in the form of photo-realistic illustrations, a motley crowd of figures indulging in what I can only state here as being a pornographic group-hug. But what makes me really upset each time I pass the billboard is that the figures depict not only three of India’s leading political figures but also four deities and religious figures from various faiths.
Now, as readers of this column may have gathered over time, I’m not the smarmy, puritanical, over-sensitive commentator who can be found popping out of every rabbit hole these days. I’ve been a supporter of free speech and free expression — a criminal can’t get too tetchy about the law. But there comes a time in a man’s life, even in the woolly, ‘everything’s okay’ man’s life, when he let’s his jaw first drop, then after closing it he hardens it, and decides to complain.
One obvious reason for me not to describe the noxious billboard is that I don’t want riots to break out. Even though most people — or enough people to make it a media issue — have not seen this offensive public display that simultaneously targets our religions, our nation, our sense of taste, even a simple description would send people into gut-wrenching cartwheels and make them naturally react in a violent, uncontrolled fashion. If you thought the ‘Danish cartoon’ or the ‘Husain paintings’ were out of line, well, this scandalous billboard makes them look like playschool fun things in comparison.
Trust me, this billboard is on a far more scurrilous league than those Ganeshas on underwear, or Indian flag on blouses, or semi-pornographic depictions in newspapers that the likes of Markandey Katju get epileptic about, or the existence of Salman Rushdie not to mention his creations. But the scary bit is that this offensive material is not on the busy but relatively ethereal realm of the internet that’s the hot, new safari park for our society’s safekeepers. The Delhi High Court may have got the go-ahead to prosecute social networking sites such as Facebook and Google for hosting “objectionable material”. But who can be hauled up for a disgusting billboard in a public space? Who? Who? Who?
I understand that by even pointing out the existence of such a sickening display that doesn’t seem to have caught the eye of even professional smut’n’blasphemy-watchers, I run the risk of publicising the heinous object. But one thing I’ve learnt over the last few days, weeks, months, years and decades is that it’s better to point to something offensive and hope it is removed from the face of the earth than keep mum about it, praying that no one will come across the abomination.
If material on the internet that, as the magistrate’s court in Delhi related to the Google and Facebook issue stated, which includes “obscene objects” for sale to “young people” (thank god for old people!), and content “sought to create enmity, hatred and communal violence among various religious communities”, is fit for annihilation — no matter how few people may have actually been aware of them before the complaints came to the courts — I think it’s nothing short of my duty to publicise the existence of the horrible anti-religion(s), anti-Indian, anti-cultural billboard tucked away under a bridge in central Delhi.
Surely you’ll agree, if the authorities are unable to take down this billboard immediately and if you now manage to look at it (please don’t), that to allow such a thing to stand in the name of namby-pamby, morally vacuous free expression, would be ignoring the potential sickening feeling in the stomachs of millions.
Which is why I implore that before riots break out all across this secular, genteel country, let the authorities take down this hurtful, insensitive and downright offensive billboard that I can’t even bear to talk about.