Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Truth Vs. Falsehood
If the ancient Indian civilization and the Roman Empire were once known for attributes of glory and greatness, what links India and Italy in contemporary times is rampant corruption in every segment of social and political life. Indians visiting Italy may find the nation almost like a second home: life is chaotic, no one obeys the rules, policemen can be bribed to any extent even to be tacit accomplices in crime, there is massive tax evasion, the mafia controls real estate, the government counts for little, and, for the powers that be, life can indeed be a bed of roses at the expense of the national exchequer.
In this context I am unwittingly reminded of a painting that I had seen, among numerous other exhibits, at the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston, Massachussetts, during the course of my Fulbright year (2003-04) in the U.S. This canvas entitled "The Truth Unveiled by Time," painted by the Italian artist, Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), around 1743, shows a young woman, representing Truth, holding a mirror in her right hand, while her left supports the disk of the sun, symbolising the light of Reason. The naked, soft sensual body of the young woman with a bared nipple is clasped in the arms of Time represented as an old man. On the right of the painting appears Falsehood, dazzled by the blinding light of Truth.
In the corridors of Italian power and pelf, this painting created quite a flutter among all sane citizens. According to the express wishes of the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, a copy of this painting was placed as the backdrop of his media briefing room in Palazzo Chigi after he took office for the third time in 2008. It is believed that this painting was chosen because of its title. A couple of months ago, while the prime minister was becoming entangled in a succession of controversies involving women friends and associates, Berlusconi was apprehensive that the exposed breasts could “offend the sensibilities of some people,” and apparently decided to cover the woman’s naked breasts, fully exposed in the original painting, by a white veil. It is rumored that since Truth has a new top fitted by Berlusconi's image consultant, Lies should feel altogether more at ease in the office of Italy's prime minister. As reported by Hilary Clark for The Independent in Rome, “In his former life as a media entrepreneur, Mr. Berlusconi part-built a multibillion-pound media empire on revenues generated by television programmes featuring gyrating women showing-off their naked breasts.” After such knowledge, what forgiveness!
Though the present Indian prime minister may personally stand unquestionably committed to ethics and morality, the elite lineup at the Tihar jail – Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats, senior police officials, doctors, teachers, members of judiciary and the like – ought to convince anyone how deeply embedded in the national consciousness is the cancer of corruption. The abhorrence displayed by all power-brokers towards Anna Hazare’s crusade for bringing everyone in power under the scanner amply justifies the fact that Truth needs cover-ups so that it does not find illumination by the light of reason. In the corrupted currents of today’s world, it is ironical that Truth, unlike in Tiepolo’s painting, must be constrained to remain dazzled by the glaring lights of Falsehood. That makes the world a dangerous place to live not because of the people who perpetuate evil but because of the saner ones who prefer to remain ‘strictly neutral’ and do nothing about it.
The challenge before all of us – writers, academics and intellectuals – is, therefore, to give up the comfortable stance of neutrality and engage ourselves in our own little ways to conjure and create a world where Truth remains unembarrassed by falsehood.
--Nibir K. Ghosh,