Yesterday will be remembered for the demise of the most familiar name on the Indian art scene, Maqbool Fida Husain, aged 95. What won’t be remembered by this generation will be his contribution to art and his eminence as an artist who began with humble means and ended up living in royalty in his exile homes in Dubai and Qatar.
In India, where the understanding and appreciation of art, and especially the avant-garde he had revolutionized is not so widespread, an artist has to rise above his work. Sadly, this generation will remember MF Husain for all the controversies his work attracted. Although his most controversial work was painting ‘Bharat Mata’ in Nude which attracted protests and threats from right-Wing Hindu group, he had managed to hurt the sentiments of some Muslim groups as well by allegedly lifting a direct verse from Quran in his movie ‘Meenaxi-A Tale of Three cities’.
This brings us to the question of what kind of legacy Husain would have left had these events-leading to protests, arrest warrants and his eventual exile to Qatar-not taken place in the first place. It’s true that I feel bad that India’s most celebrated artist didn’t get his dying wish fulfilled-of breathing his last in his birthplace, but at the same time I question his choices and his decisions.
I didn’t expect him to apologies to Hindus or Muslims or any others sect. In these times people can do anything in the name of freedom of speech. Arundhati Roy can advocate Kashmir’s secessation from India, Raj Thackerey can willfully evict North Indians from Mumbai; Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid can declare himself an ISI agent and dare the entire nation and so on. So Husain’s sin, if I can call it that, is no greater than these individuals who not only continue to live in this country but also have the luxury of declaring null and void the very fundamentals this great nation is built on.
Husain has done a great disservice to his craft in the eyes of this generation. The respect he would have commanded is all lost thanks to needless controversies he kept himself embroiled in till his death. The choice of living outside his home land was his own. If you want to stand up for what you believe, you don’t seek escape routes like this. There’s even a theory that he ‘escaped’ to avoid non bail able warrants which would have been issued against him. I don’t buy that since MF Husain was a huge figure and in this communal politics era, he would have found many backers against a Right wing attack.
I hope and wish that in future, maybe a couple of decades later MF Husain is remembered for what he was, a painter, a revolutionary artist and truly The ‘Picasso’ of India.