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Obituary: M F Husain


ARINDAM CHAUDHURI | New Delhi, June 10, 2011 10:28
Tags : M.F. Husain |Qatar | paintings | Hindus | muslims |

(This was the editorial piece written by Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, The Sunday Indian on TSI's April 4, 2010 issue)

M.F. Husain surely wouldn't have used his freedom of expression with Islam, but let's still give him the freedom to express

It is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom

This whole controversy about M.F. Husain, his exile and his citizenship of Qatar has been so convoluted that ordinary Indians are confused. One big reason for this confusion is that the whole debate around M.F. Husain and his paintings has raised so many questions about Hinduism, Islam, tolerance and secularism that simple facts are being ignored. Let me start by pointing out some things our so called liberal journalists and intellectuals are afraid to admit. The fact is: many Hindus have, and will fi nd some of the paintings of M.F. Husain quite offensive. Showing grotesquely nude portraits of Hindu deities is bound to offend many Hindus. And I think, so called intellectuals who call these offended Hindus bigoted and intolerant are actually even more blindly bigoted and intolerant. How can you defend the right of M.F. Husain to offend and deny the equal right of some people to feel offended?

There is yet another valid point that many offended Hindus have raised. And the point cannot be ignored even if it is politically incorrect. What would have been the fate of M.F. Husain if he were a citizen of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and claimed that he – as an artist – has the intellectual freedom to portray revered historical and mythical figures of Islam in a manner that deeply offends devout Muslims? In fact, the question to be asked is: would M.F. Husain would have invoked artistic freedom and done what Salman Rushdie did when he wrote 'The Satanic Verses'? Let me go further and offend our so called intellectuals: Would M.F. Husain – now that he is a free citizen of Qatar – behave like an iconoclast artist and offend the Muslim citizens of that country? We all know now – at least going by media reports of his love for some finer things of life – that he is not a devout Muslim the way that term is (mis)understood nowadays. We also know what his fate would have been in Saudi Arabia.

So, I personally think it is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom. He is just about a normally good artist who with the media hype happening at the right time made it big and immediately learnt the tricks of marketing his paintings well. From branding his paintings with help of a recognisable logo i.e. the horse to walking barefeet- he did everything cleverly and rightly. His sense of colors makes his paintings bright but as with most modern art, its hardly much to write home about when compared to the art say for example from the renaissance period, that is really worth emulating. And yet, I think his exile and citizenship is actually a big loss for India. And for the Idea of India.

Let me start with the least important reasons why! For centuries, Hindu temples, monuments and literature have portrayed the erotic as one more manifestation of the so many paths towards spirituality and salvation. The fact is: Konark, Khajuraho, Ajanta and others are proof that eroticism was celebrated by at least a section of Hindus. We revere Lord Krishna and yet celebrate his interaction with the Gopis. In sharp contrast, Islam and Christianity have always been far more puritanical when it comes to their deities. You will not find any temple, scripture, painting or anything that would portray Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed in the manner that Hindus sometimes portray Lord Krishna. To that extent, you can argue that M.F. Husain was merely repeating what many Hindus before him have done.

The second reason I would add is the fact that India claims to be a democracy where people have the right to free speech and artistic expression. This line of thought argues that Indians have the right to offend and that a democracy should be large hearted enough to absorb such provocations. After all, did not B.R. Ambedkar ‘offend’ Hinduism so many times before and after he converted to Buddhism? Was not Periyar of Tamil Nadu, a leader and thinker who delighted in insulting symbols of Hinduism? How about the slogans of Bahujan Samaj Party sometime ago, which went like: “Tilak, Taraazu aur Talwaar; Inko Maro Joote Chaar”? What about the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi allegedly insulting Lord Ram during the Sethu Samudram controversy? The logic is: if so many have been ‘insulting’ Hinduism, why single out Husain and target him for the same?

Personally, I would leave such reasons to our so called intellectuals to debate and congratulate each other over their so called commitment to secularism, free speech and democracy. I think the persecution of M.F. Husain and his exile from India are bad for the country because of a more important reason. India has always been the land that gave shelter to the persecuted who sought relief, succour and a place to practice their faith. This has not only saved the ‘refugees’ from death and persecution, it has also enriched India. The best example of this is the history of Parsis in India. India – through ages – has been a land where different ideologies, faiths and creeds have co-existed. More importantly, India has withstood repeated onslaughts to smother this celebration of diversity.

I am again being politically incorrect. But despite the best efforts of Mahmood Ghaznavi who destroyed the Somnath Temple – apart from God knows how many other temples – the temple, and the faith, survive in tact. Despite the best efforts of Christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries, the ‘heathen’ Hindus managed to keep faith in their rituals, deities, festivals and celebrations. Please remember: India is the only major nation in the world which has been ruled directly by propagators of Islam and Christianity, yet not succumbed to their lure – either through sword, ideology or bribe. The only other major nations of the world who has retained their ancient spiritual heritage are China and Japan. And the two were never conquered and ruled by ‘outsiders’ the way India was.

That is the India I love so passionately. It is the India that has the capacity and power to absorb all ideas – even if they seem to insult Hinduism. I have heard of people who crave for their deities and prayers in Saudi Arabia because that country simply does not allow you to practice any faith other than Islam. It is just that today’s intellectuals are so cowardly and timid that they fail to highlight this simple fact. I urge all fellow citizens of India to welcome back M.F. Husain with open arms and allow him to paint whatever he wants. He will probably enrich our civilization, than damage it with some childish paintings!

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017