We're a touchy bunch

By now the shock and haw-ji-haw that follow provocative Benetton ads have become ritualistic. Their latest 'Unhate' campaign features images of various political leaders including the Pope and Ahmed al-Tayeb and Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas kissing. Not surprisingly they are waiting to respond with both "anticipation and apprehension." We know they do this to sell fleece zip-ups but sometimes you can't quite dismiss the idea.

Illustration/ Jishu Dev Malakar

And there's something about the idea of Unhate that's a relief; the suggestion of accepting difference even if you can't embrace it, is a grown-up grey among the black, white and pink stock options of Love and Hate.
Apparently, the company had considered featuring Indian and Pakistani leaders in the campaign but dropped the idea for fear of cultural offence.

Well, we can't say we are not famous! Clearly everyone knows what a touchy bunch we are, quick to be insulted, and even quicker to attack; hard to joke with, although ridicule is our favourite kind of humour.

If the image had been included, we'd have been in knots trying to decide which part of us had been outraged our bigotry (Un-hate? Never! You think we are napunsak or pansies or what? You bring Kasab in front of me and now only I will kill with bare hands!) or our modesty (Kissing? Never! That's against our sanskruti, family values and morality!).

Like Benetton, the State Election Commission is also concerned about our delicate sensibilities. The approved symbols for candidates in the upcoming BMC elections have been announced. Knowing how our purity and innocence could be corrupted (even though we are anti-corruption) by merest hints callup of sex or fun or women's freedom (dangerously close to sex, mind it) leading society down the road of savagery and sexual mania, certain symbols have been disallowed. For instance: banana, (ahem) carrot, frock, umbrella and the ladies purse.

Guarding ourselves from all these possible pollutants is obviously very important. Knowing various candidate's abilities and possibilities? Ok, we'll see to that later, don't try to dilute the issue with minor points. But I, for one am, offended at the SEC's underestimation of our ability to be offended.

I can think of some subversive meanings for permitted symbols like The Hand also. Or Farm Animals. These things can possibly remind some people of wrong types of things. Not me. I know better, of course. But, others... well, one can't be too careful.

Where would we be without censorship? How could we possibly be our cute we-are-like-this-only selves? We'd have to leave the Eden of our indifference and ignorance. We might have to reasonably and maturely decide for ourselves what's good and bad, right and wrong, what we want to see and don't want to see! Let's leave it to the censors -- like our mummy and papa, they'll always do what's right for us.

They know we can watch wiggly-wiggly in the movies, violence against communities, disrespect towards women, the seemingly scripted obscenities of Bigg Boss. But we won't survive documentaries about state atrocities in the North-East or Kashmir, political machinations behind the Gujarat riots or sex workers who want union rights.  And bad things about corporate honchos in newspapers? Next you'll be saying there's no Santa Claus. Do you really think we, the People, are ready for that? Fine, it's on your head.

Is it any surprise that we have increasingly lost our ability and enjoyment of differentiating between reality and metaphor, the explicit and implicit, insult and irony, humour and disrespect, subtle art and broad, good politics and bad? Happy Children's Day to us.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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