Time machines cannot exist outside science fiction because they violate the law of conservation of mass and the first law of thermodynamics. The history of culture is presumably governed by similar, unstated laws, which baffle the monumental projects of political parties. The BSP had turned Uttar Pradesh into a commemorative elephant graveyard, now deserted. The BJP is forging a statue of Sardar Patel out of ploughshares and scrap and the alert art police in Guwahati have denounced Ramkinkar Baij’s statue of Gandhiji, and want it dismantled like the busts of Stalin in the former USSR. The great modernist stands accused of equipping the Mahatma with disproportionate spectacles, hands and feet.
The charge misses the obvious distinction between photocopying and art, which alters perceptions by taking liberties with reality. Consider the dog which is part of Ramkinkar’s ‘Santal Family’, in his native Santiniketan, which is seen by thousands of visitors every day. To the artless eye, it seems to be mutating into a monitor lizard. The unnerved realist may wish to put such regressive phylogenetics out of sight by demolishing that statue, too. And there’s Ramkinkar’s most visible work, the yaksha and yakshini guarding the doors of the Reserve Bank of India in the capital. They are disproportionate by definition, because no one knows the proper proportions of their tribe. The RBI is already embarrassed by a disproportionately low understanding of the volume of the nation’s cash. Must we burden the institution with visible disproportion at its doors?
So many sculptural wrongs, so little time. Would it not be economical to replace allegedly disproportionate statuary with proportionate holograms, embellished with Gandhara-style drapery? Because when the bulb lights up for those who would alter the history of culture, they could just switch off the projector.