Dancing girl of Mohenjadaro: Why fiddle with something that isn't broken?

She is a poster girl of the witless desecration of our rich cultural heritage

Fair & Lovely is now sensitive enough to be Glow & Lovely, but the bronze dancing girl of Mohenjodaro; she of the bejewelled, brazenly nude body, the thick hair and the famously insouciant hand-on-hip stance—an image any school-going Indian child can recognise in a heartbeat—has just been rendered pinky-fairer, vulgarly curvier and distinctly unlovelier by the custodians of Indian sanskaar.

Robbed of her glorious lanky nudity, she now stands trapped inside a Barbie-doll-like rectangular packaged box, dressed in a ghastly faux-tribal tank top and muffin-top creating midiskirt—an outfit picked out for her personally by men whose mindset seems to be more prehistoric than that of the Indus Valley Civilisation itself.

In 1973, British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler had described her thus: “She is about 15 years old I think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.”

Illustration: Job P.K. Illustration: Job P.K.

The makeover by the ministry of culture’s International Museum Expo, currently being held at Pragati Maidan, has deprived the dancing girl of this uniqueness for sure. Though she has shot up from a diminutive 11cm to a life-sized figure, nobody would give her more than a passing glance now. She looks like a sad, ubiquitous mud-plaster dummy, the kind whose fate it is to get covered in paan-spit, dust and cigarette butts in the dim corners of government installations.

I am not very sure why the ministry of culture felt they had to improve upon a statuette that was perfected over 4,000 years ago. Perhaps, the (now-familiar) need to fiddle with something that isn’t broken, the insecure urge to “mark your territory”, which seems to characterise this regime, surfaced here too? After all, when you are done fiddling with the Planning Commission, the national currency, the history syllabus, the old Parliament house, the names of cities and roads and stadiums, then what do you even do?

Perhaps, they felt her frank nakedness would drive all our young people mad with lust? Because our young people are not constantly being stalked by pornography on the internet, na!

Perhaps, they felt the dancing girl’s nudity does not show Indian culture in a ‘good’ light. But then why pick her for the mascot in the first place?

I would like to think that they genuinely wanted to do something good and create an impactful mascot for the International Museum Expo. But then, wasn’t there anybody cultured enough within the ministry of culture to realise that there was no need for pink paint and midiskirts—that a life-sized, exact, 3D replica of the dancing girl in all her bronzed, nude glory would’ve been a hundred times more impactful as a display than this hideous prim travesty?

I would love to visit the expo and walk around a display like that. It would be new-agey, Instagram-friendly, Madame Tussauds-esque and goose-bumpingly patriotic. I’m sure history teachers would love to bring their students to see history brought alive in that manner, too. Perhaps, it can still be done? (It would be much more expensive to execute than Miss Midiskirt, I’m guessing. But then again, we’ve found the funds to build statues of Kempe Gowda and Shivaji and Sardar Patel, so why not dig out some 2k bills to fund a modest-sized statue of the immodest dancing girl of Mohenjodaro, too?)

Because midiskirt girl is not gonna cut it.

Oh, she is a successful mascot all right—just not of the International Museum Expo. What she is, is a poster girl of the witless desecration of the rich cultural heritage of India.