EXPRESS Newsline

NOVEMBER 19 1998

IIC Gallery refuses to exhibit the photo which inspires author Khushwant Singh to do a book

Perils on the way to man meeting God


Many are the perils to be encountered on the way when man decides to meet God. And for photographer Madhur Dhingra the greatest peril became the Naga Sadhus and their way of life.

          The show of photographs spiritual in theme, called ‘Where Man Meets God’, opens at the India International Center (IIC) annex on Tuesday (November 24). But one particular photograph which made the organizers blush and say that it could not be displayed was on one Naga sadhu ‘doing it’ to another. “The IIC organizers had good enough reasons for not wanting to display it. But my aim in bringing back this picture (see pix with shading) was not the shock value. I wished to draw attention to the decadent lives of the Naga sadhus,” says Dhingra. The picture has inspired none other than Khushwant Singh to bring out a book.

          So, complying with the conditions the IIC put forward, Dhingra decided to withdraw this picture along with three others on the cremation of the poor at the Mahashamshan at Manikarnika. But he has arranged for a preview of the pictures at the Art Konsult gallery in Hauz Khas village.

          Dhingra, a colonizer who took up product photography for advertising firms as a hobby, and later decided to express his creative urge by photographing religious places and ritual, was in for a rude shock when he went armed with a camera to the Maha Kumbh at Haridwar this year. “I was very excited by the thought of seeing the Nagas descend from the Himalayas where I thought they led an austere life, livings without clothes amidst snow. But I was in for disillusionment. Austere life style had changed to luxurious living in air-conditioned rooms, money was God. I saw pitched battles between the Nagas and the police. There was bitter rivalry among various groups. Homosexuality was widely prevalent,” recalls Dhingra.

          By clicking these pictures, Dhingra says he did not want to take the stand of the majority heterosexual group condemning the minority homosexual group. “I am against the use of the name of religion for other kinds of activity,” he says. What shocked him further was the way the poor, who cannot afford enough wood, were cremated. “Never before had I encountered the disrespect being shown to the dead as I saw here. The bodies were cremated in a strange manner. First only the middle portion of the body was set aflame, leaving out the legs and head. As the fire rages, the face and legs get charred. Then the whole body is turned and twisted like barbecue chicken,” says Dhingra.

          Three photographs of such cremations have been kept turned to the wall event at Art Konsult. “We put them up at first, but it is difficult even to look at them,” says gallery owner Siddhartha Tagore.

          Dhingra says that he has achieved his mission as Khushwant Singh has agreed to do a text for his pictures and the two will be bringing out a book. He adds. “Khushwant was very intrigued by the homosexuality shot of the Naga Sadhus and he has taken four to five copies of the picture of private circulation.”