The Times of India printed this 8-column illustration by Neelabh Banerjee in late July, to accompany a story titled “The Lost Supper” on the plight of the common man in the face of galloping food prices.
The illustrator put R.K. Laxman‘s man from Matunga where Jesus sat in Leonardo da Vinci‘s original. But following complaints from Christians, The Times published an apology three days later.
Allwyn Fernandes, the Times of India‘s former chief reporter in Bombay and now director of media practice and social engagement practice at R&PM: Edelman, joins issue with the protestors.
By ALLWYN FERNANDES
I know this is going to upset many, but I must raise it.
Ancy D’Souza has written a letter to Jaideep Bose, editor of The Sunday Times of India, protesting against the cartoon titled “The Lost Supper” in the issue dated July 25, 2010.
You can see the cartoon here.
Ancy (and many others who share his sentiments on Facebook) says that the cartoon has hurt the religious sentiments of Christians deeply by projecting R.K. Laxman’s Common Man as the centre of The Lost Supper, with politicians of all hues sitting around him.
The cartoon symbolises the situation in India today, especially over the past year, as food prices spiral upwards and politicians serve up empty promises, the common man is left empty-handed and with an empty stomach.
But Ancy sees it differently: “You have made mockery of our religious beliefs. Kindly apologize for the blunder you have created or else we may have to plan a very stringent course of action,” says his letter to Jaideep Bose.
But is the cartoon really offensive and has it made a mockery of our religious beliefs?
If Ancy visits my home, above my dining table is a painting from the Philippines titled “Table of Hope.” It depicts Jesus at the table, with a lot of ragged and dirty street urchins around him instead of the apostles. There is also a cute little urchin hiding under the table!
Everyone who has dined at my table has marveled at the artist’s depiction of what Jesus would do today—round up and invite us to his table not priests, bishops and cardinals in pink fancy wear, not even us Catholics praying in churches.
No, he would round up the urchins, the poor and the hungry at our railway stations and bus stands and in our schools and break bread with them. Yes, there is deep hunger even in Mumbai — thousands come to school hungry even in our Catholic schools because their parents have no jobs or the money to give them a proper meal.
That picture was not given to me by an atheist or agnostic, but by a solid SVD priest, Fr Franz-Josef Eilers, secretary of the office of social communications of the federation of Asian bishops’ conferences.
I believe that the Sunday Times of India cartoon, by using a scene that symbolizes Christianity’s most solemn moment, depicts the picture in India today very powerfully.
What are we protesting against?
Did not Jesus say “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me”? Did He not say, and have countless artists down the centuries not portrayed good being done to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the tired and the dispossessed as being done to Jesus himself? Then how are our sentiments hurt?
That Common Man in the cartoon, dispossessed of his meal, represents Jesus himself. And around him in the cartoon you see politicians of all hues, fussing around him.
Was everyone around the last Supper pure of heart? Did you not have a Judas whom countless artists have painted with his thirty pieces of silver? And did not Peter refuse to let Jesus wash his feet? And then deny he knew Jesus at all thrice before the sun rose, this same Peter on whose rock He would build His Church?
Didn’t those 12 men that we believe were round the table with Jesus at his last meal not human beings, with all their human failings – just like those depicted in the cartoon?
It is time to take a broader view.
That cartoon is something I would enlarge and put up in every church and use for reflection of the hunger that exists in our country today – hunger of every kind, while the politicians huff and puff without purpose around the hungry Common Man at the centre of it all.
External reading: A day in the life of The Times of India