Not too long ago, I wrote a book which I hoped would make me move to Paris, and if not to Paris then to Dublin. While I wrote the novel for the same reason that everyone writes a novel — to tell those bileful neighbours who had confidently predicted that I would come to nothing that they were not (totally) right — there was another purpose: to be forced out of the country and, hopefully, if all the stars were aligned correctly, to end up as an exile in Paris, and if not Paris then in Dublin.
I injected two things into my story that was set in 1920s Calcutta (the first city that I tried to run away from and succeeded): the ‘fact’ that not all Indians were keen the British leave the country, and that many of that generation’s youth who participated in the more violent manifestations of the freedom struggle (bomb-throwing, assassinations, patriotic poetry recitals, etc) were really restless youngsters channelising their hormonal energies in activities packaged as fighting against British rule. And just to secure things further, I had a scene in which a character mistakenly believes a relic in a Kali temple to be the stub of a penis. In my experience, nothing can rub people the wrong way more effectively than when you mix religion with a false penis stub.
Sure that some reader somewhere would pick up these elements, get seriously offended and want my book burnt and banned, I patiently waited for the mob to arrive at my doorstep with TV camera crews tagging along. Even a small mob of patriots or Kali bhakts would have done the trick.
No demand for my book to be banned. No ‘hate campaign’. Nothing. Having ensured that my passport was not expiring in a hurry, I was gutted. My plan of up-and-running to Paris, and if not to Paris then to Dublin, was nixed.
All this came tumbling back to me when I heard about Maqbool Fida Husain being offered Qatari citizenship. His son later confirmed that the 94-year-old artist has accepted it (while giving up Indian citizenship) and can now be justified in visiting Berlin and publicly stating in front of the Brandenburg Gate, “Ich bin ein Qatari.”
While liberal Indians, including the editorial writers of this paper, moaned about the ‘loss’ of a valued ‘one of us’, I was resurrecting my feeling of failure to get the French government, and if not the French government then the Irish one, to offer me citizenship. Unlike Husain, whose painting of a goddess depicted in the nude (a straightforward artistic conceit so much less novel than, say, depicting Kali in a sari or Sonia Gandhi in a rubber suit) had no intention of hurting anybody’s sensibilities, I wanted to piss people off.
I still do. But Husain’s the one who gets the villagers with their pitchforks all riled up enough to break gallery property, rip up his prints (for these lot, the real painting and its reproductions are the same ‘naked Hindu goddess’ picture), threaten the artist with dire consequences, and scare him out of the country. Not fair!
Inspired by the generous gesture from Qatar to Husain, I’m going to take another shot at getting myself thrown out of India. But this time around, my tactics are different. I’ve figured out that you have to be an already successful novelist for the ‘blasphemous’ bits in your book to pick up traction. (I’m not a successful novelist.) I’ve also figured out that being a Hindu doesn’t really help in pissing people off in this country quickly enough for a proper momentum to develop.
So here’s my plan. I’ll hire two billboards, one in Connaught Place in Delhi, the other in Churchgate in Mumbai, that will show the principal protagonists of three or four religious faiths indulging in some dubiously, unholy activity. (Even depicting one of the characters should do the trick with one set of people.) With all the major religious communities of India suitably horrified, being thrown out of the country should be easy-peasy.
I just have one niggling worry. Will France and Ireland, upholders of artistic expression — that don’t take the easy, righteous position that liberals in India take while decrying anything done for ‘shock value’ or ‘cheap sensationalism’ (what’s wrong with ‘shock’ and ‘sensation’, eh?) — take me in? Because if they don’t, I’ll be in big trouble, and if not in big trouble then in gargantuan shit.