The last week saw news channels paying rich tributes to M.F. Husain, who died in London at the age of 95. There were debates among intellectuals and politicians about what M.F. Husain did right, and like this blogger, some who magnanimously took it upon themselves to tell people ‘where Hussain went wrong’.
If we ever enter a dictionary and take a tour of all the words we use everyday, in a dark corner, we would find the word ‘culture’ sitting crouched. She has been battered, abused and raped, and is still dragged into our conversations everyday. ‘Culture’ has been used to take matters into our own hands, she has made our blood boil, and has united and divided us, both at once. Little does ‘culture’ know the havoc that she plays with our lives everyday.
When a Raj Kapoor shows the breasts of a 16 year old, disguising it under cheesy references to the Ganga getting polluted, the censors pass it off as ‘artistic and aesthetic’. The largest selling book from India is the Kamasutra, which reaffirms Western notions that India is an exotic country with queens and snakes, but we have no problem with that.
I wonder how much controversy would be generated if Husain was a Hindu.
The one criticism that still haunts Husain is that he painted Hindu goddesses nude. This was with an intention to offend the sentiments of Hindus. We were all shown chain mails that compared paintings of Husain, with Hindu women on the left side and Muslim women on right side. While the goddesses were nude, the Muslim women were all well-dressed. These mails enraged Hindus, and were forwarded to each other.
Truth is, Husain started painting from the age of ten or so. He was a prolific painter who continued to paint till his death at the age of 95. He has been credited with over 60,000 paintings, and comparing a few and drawing a conclusion is like saying Amay Khurasia is a better batsman that Sachin because he scored 55 on his debut and Sachin scored only 18 in the World Cup final.
We were enraged by paintings of Sita in the nude. What about when political parties scream ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and beat up women in pubs or slaughter and rape women? Do you think Sita would be proud of her husband at that time? What do all these enraged people feel during such times?
India never had a culture of artists. We had rich artistic traditions, but all the artists worked for kings. They painted portraits of the royal family, or built commissioned monuments. The credit for the works went to the king, and nothing was mentioned of the artist who did the work. The concept of individual artistic celebritydom was never a part of our country.
Husain grew up painting everyday objects – the markets, the local people, the women, the monkeys and the horses. Born into poverty, he never learnt art, but his expertise with the medium is credited to the experience he gained by painting huge hoardings of Hindi films.
Husain joined the Progressive Artists Group a few years later. Along with his group, Husain acquired fame and money. He held numerous art shows, directed films, also winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his work. I have never studied art, but I can recognise a Husain just by a single glance. Though most of us trash paintings as ‘modern art’, Husain’s paintings have a character to them – you have to see them to know what I am talking about.
Somewhere in the 90s, a few Bajrang Dal activists found some paintings that he had done in the 70s, and the entire nation spat its hatred on the man. We stopped his exhibitions, burnt his books. We stoned his house, threatened him with death, and the government did nothing. He fled his country and stayed in Europe. We ignored how lovingly he spoke about India in every interview of his, but accused him of sucking up to a Muslim country on accepting a Qatari citizenship.
The truth is, Husain has done more for our culture than all of us put together can imagine.
Husain along with other artists brought art back in vogue. He was probably the first superstar of Indian art. Today, thousands of students pursue art as a discipline. They work on our indigenous art forms, keeping them alive, because they see people like Husain and look at art as a viable option.
But kya karen? The bastard painted Sita nude, yaar. He deserved to be kicked out of the nation.