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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014
The naked and the living
Aasheesh Sharma, Hindustan Times
May 03, 2014
First Published: 12:36 IST(3/5/2014)
Last Updated: 11:51 IST(4/5/2014)

Journalist Mihir Srivastava likes sketching people without a stitch on. (He isn't himself in the nude!) Over the last decade, more than 150 people - friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers - have agreed to pose for him in the buff. Now his private hobby is going public with the book Conversations in the Nude, published by HarperCollins.

A work by Mihir Srivastava.

Among his subjects are an awkward wrestler, a politician who found being sketched therapeutic and a sadhu with a dark past. Excerpts from an interview:
 
How did you develop the hobby?
It started about 12 years ago when I was travelling in Chhattisgarh with two French researchers. They chanced upon my sketchbook and asked me whether I had ever done live models and volunteered to pose for me. When the couple returned to Delhi, I would visit them at their flat in Munirka and sketch them. As they became less conscious of their nakedness, the sketching became more nuanced. They went about their lives unmindful of my gaze.

How tough was it to convince people to pose for you?
The response changed from incredulity to outrage to curiosity. Some of them agreed but suggested I sketch just their top half. To which I said there wasn't a degree to nudity. Either you are in the nude state or you are not. The first person to agree was a writer in her 20s. At first, she was appalled with the suggestion and didn't even finish her coffee and left my apartment. But a few days later she called to say she was ready to pose.

Indians are perceived as a conservative people...
This whole thing of Indians being conservative is a façade. If you guarantee them anonymity they can be radical. I convert my study into a studio, where there is a single source of light, a pedestal lamp with which I illuminate my subjects. My subjects are vulnerable in that space. In that state, when they realise they are not really vulnerable, it is empowering for them.

You say nudity is just a starting point... 
All of us use clothes to project an identity, whether it is our ethnicity or gender.  But once you are naked, you cease to project. I travelled to Europe last year and I was fascinated with public nudity in Germany and Finland. I was in the nude with friends for hours together on a beach and in a public sauna. But when I asked them to pose one-on-one, they refused. People in India were far more receptive.

Did your family like the book?
When I asked my mother how my late father would have reacted to the book, she said he liked art and would have been proud of me.

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