Ever since it came to light that legendry painter Maqbool Fida Husain was mulling to accept Qatar nationality, which was being conferred upon him by the Islamic State’s Royal Family, there has been a nationwide debate about the possible consequences of losing the country’s most celebrated painter.
The ‘awakened’ and the ‘enlightened’ citizenry has been spending sleepless nights debating the factors, which forced the legendry artist to think of renouncing Indian citizenship and the catastrophic effect it would have on the country’s secular and progressive image.
The news obviously came as a shocker for many of us, who mourned the development as a painful loss of an internationally renowned artist. However, for some people, India, which has suffered the exodus of some of its exceptionally talented minds preferring to settle abroad for a comfortable living, departure of another Indian would not have made a big difference.
However, Husain is not an ordinary man and considering his accomplishments, his artistic genius and his international recognition, the news obviously evoked sharp reactions from several quarters - the national media, the artists’ community and various political fronts.
There is no denying the fact that Husain’s departure will create a vacuum that would be hard to fill in the years to come.
Husain, who is revered by many as India's Pablo Picasso, belongs to a select breed of artists, which has successfully excelled in other occupations, interests and passions besides their own chosen stream.
His fondness for Indian classical music, his passion for making movies (Gajgamini and Meenaxi), and his interest in designing jewellery, tapestries and his love for photography and literature are all well known.
The widely-travelled artist, who is the winner of several international accolades for his contribution to the world of art and culture, still refuses to let old age and controversies take a toll on his work.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that no contemporary Indian artist has ever managed to pull of the feats achieved by Husain in terms of global recognition, awards and honours, or even the market price of his paintings, portraits etc.
His journey from a humble beginning in Pandharpur to acquiring the status of a living legend still inspires an entire genre of performing artists, who look up to him for encouragement and motivation.
But despite all this, I feel extremely sorry for the “fall from grace” of this “son of the soil”, who was once the “pride of India” till he courted controversies for his nude paintings of Hindu goddesses.
His objectionable portrayal of Mother India, his nude depiction of Hindu Goddesses and his reactionary work 'Rape of India' (displayed in ‘London Art Gallery’ after terrorist attacks in Mumbai), all offended the religious sentiments of Hindus.
The highly outrageous manner through which Husain essayed his thoughts on canvas fuelled a hate campaign spearheaded by right-wing Hindu organisations and several law suits against him that followed.
The criticism and the unending threats to his life forced the artist to live in exile and he consequently slipped out of India. He tendered an apology, but only after he had exited the country.
I, like many of his admirers, still wonder why Husain chose to portray Mother India and Hindu Goddesses in nude, when he was already at the pinnacle of success.
Was he not aware of the possible consequences of his objectionable work or was it the greed for more publicity (however adverse it may be) or was it a reflection of his psychology or probably a highly divisive mindset.
If he was such a genuine artist, then why did he lack the courage to make similar painting about terrorist attacks with painting of gods/goddesses of other religions as well?
Instead of expressing the deep anguish of Indians and pains of our benevolent motherland, Husain further humiliated all of us by the disgraceful portrayal of Mother India being raped and torn between bulls and man.
The painting was not just an insult to Hindus; it was clearly demeaning for the people from all communities, caste, colour or creed, who regard India as their motherland and have lived peacefully in her lap for centuries.
This pain and humiliation was inflicted upon us by none other than Husain, who was once the beloved son of India. At a time when several renowned art and music exponents had faded into the oblivion, lived miserable lives and failed to get the honour they deserved, Husain was conferred the ‘Padmashree’ by the Government of India in 1966. The following year he received a Golden Bear for his widely appreciated work “Through the Eyes of a Painter” displayed at the Berlin Festival.
He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1987 and during his 6-year term in the Upper House he famously produced the Sansad Portfolio. His autobiography "Pendhapur ka ek Ladka" is regarded as a master piece of any Indian artist written in Hindi language.
But despite all the adulation and affection which the nation showered on Husain, he has left many of us with wounds that simply can’t be healed.
No amount of justification, whatsoever it may be (in the name of artistic freedom, freedom of expression and the liberties which one gets in a democracy), can reverse the damage he has done to the Hindu community. And if it can, then why did Muslim fundamentalists and clerics world-over raise a hue and cry when Prophet Muhammed was caricatured?
Does it not also prove that the revered painter took his artistic freedom too far and ignored that his provocative work would have an adverse impact on people’s mindsets.
Having said that, I would like to add that Husain’s case also raises several questions about whether fundamentalists should be allowed to compel a celebrity to settle abroad in view of constant threat to his life in his own country.
Of course, Husain has been the victim of our fractured political fraternity, which has its own reasoning of supporting or opposing any issue considering its impact on their vote bank and the risk of facing a religious backlash.
Is it not the collective responsibility of the political fraternity to preserve the cultural fabric of the country by denouncing fundamentalists threatening artists like Husain and assuring full safety to them?
Debate on the artist’s conduct is welcome and desirable, but the foremost focus should have been on minimising the dent which the Husain episode has caused to the secular identity of the nation.
Now, as the things unfold in the future, it will be clear if the efforts to lure this son of the soil and the Centre’s assurance of full security will compel Husain to change his mind.
As things stand, it seems unlikely as Husain has already applied for Overseas Indian Citizenship (OIC) card. This is a clear indication that though he doesn’t want to cut off ties with India, he is in no hurry to comeback either.
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