Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray is dead. The family feud is yet to start. Mumbai behaved for the first time. Impending riots are perhaps under suspension or it is so till activation orders come from Udhav or Raaj. I am not concerned about who would inherit the real Thackeray legacy. But I am concerned about the cultural scenario of this country. It is ironical that while the bigwigs of Bollywood express their shock at the news of Thackeray’s death, and the political leaders, at least for the sake of expressing their grief, do so, only the visual artists (fine artists who do painting, sculpture and related art forms) seem to be divided in their opinion on the death of Thackeray. While a majority of the ‘Marathi’ artists express their grief on the death of Thackeray, another majority of ‘intellectual’ artists (that include some Marathi artists as well as art activists also) show their ‘disapproval’ to such open expression of grief and they insist that they are all happy for the death of this man.
I am not a person who is illusioned, enamoured and charmed by the political influence or the king maker image of late Bal Thackeray. Like any other socio-politically and culturally inclined thinking Indian, I too have certain opinion and observations about his political career. First of all I don’t feel any bad if an 86 years old man passes away ‘naturally’. I wouldn’t have felt that bad had M.F.Husain been declared dead when he was in Mumbai. If at all anybody draws a parallel between M.F.Husain and Thackeray, I would say M.F.Husain’s death is mourned in a big way because we all were acting out a collective guilt; we could not do anything to bring M.F.Husain back to India from his royal exile in the Middle East. We could not persuade a secular government to do anything to curb the right wing fundamentalists of this country (remember only of this country because though Hindu sects have a global presence, the fundamentalism is a home-made product to be used within its never ending expiry date). We could not do anything to bring M.F.Husain back to this country (though we generally lobbied, protested and video conference-d in Delhi on his birthday, as an annual ritual). So when he died in exile, we mourned like the guilt ridden sons and daughters of a benevolent father.
What’ wrong if the Marathis in general and Marathi artists in particular mourn the death of Thackeray, especially when they are performing a collective guilt ritual as they do it? Now let me tell you a historical parallel with these deaths; the death of Adolf Hitler. It is observed that no German who claims to have originated from the real Aryan Roots, would prefer to talk disparagingly about Hitler even today in Germany. A level headed German may be against all what had been done by Hitler but he just does not want to talk about Hitler today. Theoretically speaking (as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy have observed), the Germans, live in a sense of guilt; a guilt, which is perhaps Oedipal in nature. They killed their father or when he was ‘killed’ they had to keep silence as ‘level headed’ people. Similarly, the collective guilt of Marathi artists is very much palpable in their utterances especially when they mourn the death of Bal Thackeray.
Now let me probe into the reasons why this mourning is guilt ridden and if at all it is guilt ridden it is still permissible in a socio-economic and politico-cultural debate and discourse. It is guilt ridden mainly because each Marathi artist who lives in Mumbai knows for sure that Bal Thackeray or his Sainiks have never done anything for the promotion of fine arts. Though Mumbai is known for its J.J.School of Arts and Jehangir Art Gallery and many cash rich private galleries, nowhere you would see the Thackeray school of thoughts promoting fine arts. You may even draw a parallel between Thackeray and Hitler because both of them were artists in their own rights and great orators who could move people to frenzy. Though there is/was a Bombay Art Society it has always been handled by the social elites within the Marathi community, to which the local Marathi artists were denied entry or presence. It has been the case till people like Rajendra Patil started taking interest in it (but unfortunately one would eventually yield to the elitism).
Hence, the Marathi artist always had this grudge against Thackeray for not doing anything for them while he claimed to be the leader of a movement that brought back pride and dignity to the Marathi people in general. So they always loved and hated Thackeray simultaneously. When the moment of his death arrived they knew that it heralded the death of their father who had not done much for them though he had brought a dignity and pride to their voices. Here I should say that my observations are only based on the Marathi artists not on the Marathi people in general. When the Marathi artists express their grief on the death of Thackeray they feel a double guilt because they have always been critiquing the same person on intellectual and political grounds (placing reason over passion), and at the same time the realization that the other group for which they have always voiced support has not brought any good for them.
Let us take the example of the art scene of Mumbai during the last twenty years. If anybody asks to name ten to twenty famous artists promoted and supported by the galleries and press, we would come to know how this guilt works in the minds of the Marathi artists: Jehangir Sabawala (Parsi-Mumbaite), Sudhir Patwardhan (Marathi), Atul Dodiya (Gujarati-Mumbaite), Prabhakar Kolte (Marathi-Mumbaikar), Jitish Kallat (Malayali-Mumbaite), Baiju Parthan (Malayali-Mumbaite), Bose Krishnamachari (Malayali-Mumbaite),T.V.Santhosh (Malayali-Mumbaite), Riyas Komu (Malayali-Mumbaite), Chintan Upadhyay (Rajasthani-Mumbaite), Sunil Gawde (Marathi-Mumbaite), Anand Joshi (Marathi-Mumbaite), Yashwant Deshmukh (Marathi-Marathi Manus).
Just look at the proportion of visibility and support that these artists get within Mumbai. I am aware of the fact that Mumabi is not Maharashtra. Nagpur, Pune, Kolhapur, Nasik and so on also produce artists. But you look at the list of artists who actually get support from the galleries or other socio-economic agencies? And now look at the complexion of the India Art Festival. There are no Mumbai galleries (rich, powerful, intellectual and secular) that are supporting this festival. And look at the number of artists. They are all from different regions of Maharashtra. If you ask why there is a Marathi pride amongst the artists, you will find the answer in these indications itself. If these artists feel that the cash rich galleries run by non-Marathi interest do not support Marathi artists from within Mumbai, is that a problem? If they mourn the death of their father figure, wil it be an anti-secular issue?
Now let me come to another vital point. One might argue that Mumbai is a metro and it is the business capital of India and it need not necessarily be representing the ‘limited’ aspirations and feelings of the Marathi community. For the sake of argument it is right. Any metro is a city within a city. It has a different rule for its articulation. While being a part of a larger state with an administrative system in place, such metros function in a different mode without identifying itself with the larger parameters that define the socio-cultural complexion of the land where it is located. To put it differently, a metro does not express the aspiration of the people who belong to the metro. Instead, any metro is a dream of the migrant. Migrants make the metros possible and in the process of its metro-fication, the migrants as well as the natives get pushed out of the borders. The vacant spaces created thus will be occupied by varied economic interests to which the political interests of the larger scenario would also join in different stages of its inception, growth and final formation. Hence, Mumbai need not necessarily be expressing the aspirations of the Marathi artists, who are often mocked at as ‘Marathi Manoos’ in the glittering exhibition openings.
(Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai)
But let us take the same case scenario elsewhere. Let us go to Kochi, which is also a metro city though not in the same line of Mumbai. If tomorrow the Kochi art scene is captured by the interests from outside, and Malayali artists are called ‘Malayali Manoos’ will any Malayali artist or the general public there approve that? I do not think so. There cannot be too many Karmakars, Kulkarnis, Mores, Patils, Dhotres, Deshmukhs and so on ruling the Kochi art scene. I don’t see that such a scenario will be tolerated by the Malayalis. I remember working with a senior artist friend in Goa. He invited me to start a contemporary art museum in Goa with the help of the Goa Government. In no time, despite my sincere efforts, my presence was questioned and in its place a few native ‘Goan’ names were brought. I had analysed that situation without much frustration. I realized that a Malayali curator ruling over a Goan Museum could not be that palatable to a Goan, even if they are all my friends.
I am not here to promote parochialism and social rupture in the line of regionalism. I am looking at this scenario with a sense of realism. Even if we talk about pan-Indian identities and pan-national ideologies, I cannot think that a typical Haryanvi Jat would ever allow me to hold a powerful position in a local body unless I belong to the Police Department or the Administrative service. Let us be very realistic. Those artists who support Bal Thackeray on certain political-social lines, do that because they have to do it as there are no other alternatives. And no Sainik has ever asked the Malayali or Bengali artists to go out of Mumbai only because that they belong to another state. My argument on Narendra Modi was also the same when the Chandramohan incident happened in 2007. No artist (non-Gujarati artist) was tortured or hunted down by the Modi government only because they voiced against the right wing fundamentalism of the state. Marathi artists are not militant, had they been really, there would not have been many private galleries in Mumbai.