Why did a 41-year-old man walk into Madame Tussauds branch in Berlin to behead a wax image of Adolf Hitler? Clearly to show his hatred towards a man that has become the symbol of human evil. Unfortunately, the beheader channelled his rage at a wax image that, apart from costing the statue its head, got the man detained by the police for damage of property — rather than being beaten up by neo-Nazis.
The Berlin incident is hardly the first one where an image has taken the beating. During the 60s, Naxalites in Calcutta damaged as many statues of ‘representatives of the bourgeoisie’ as possible. So we had headless statues and busts of Tagore, Vidyasagar and other worthies not completely in line with the revolutionary cause.
More recently, we hear those sporadic acts of violence unleashed against others immortalised in busts — most notably those of Babasaheb Ambedkar — that starts off many a riot.
On the less effective, and yet very popular, side of the iconoclastic story, there are effigies of any leader, celebrity and sportsman burnt with the mandatory sloganeering almost every day. It’s another matter that on most occasions, it is mighty difficult to distinguish one effigy (say, that of Sonia Gandhi) from another (say, that of Karat).
But what is it about an image — whether it’s of a Hitler or that of a Gandhi — that infuses it with more than a memory of the historical real person? Nothing really, except the value one has in one’s head and that one injects into the statue or image. So when you see an image, it’s not only an image you’re seeing, but also your own head.