As I was trying to recover from my ill-health, lying on the bed, my cell blinked indicating that I had received a message. I open it to read, “M.F. Hussain passed away.” Though it was a shock, it was a shock only for a split second. Soon I remembered that he was already 95 and we could have heard this news anytime. But that knowledge did not dilute the sense of loss. But what troubled me more was a sense of shame. Yes, the death of Maqbool Fida Hussain has left us enough reason to feel ashamed other than feeling blue about the vacuum his departure has left behind.
Almost fifteen months ago a moving report in The Hindu by N. Ram broke the news of M.F. Hussain being conferred with Qatar citizenship. It was already 4 years, then, since he was on a self imposed exile. In his report N. Ram had said that it was a sad day for India. Indeed it was a sad day for India and also a shameful one. This day of his departure too becomes shameful because we couldn’t keep him in India or bring him back to India, which he said he missed terribly even after he surrendered his Indian citizenship, and he had to breathe his last in London being a citizen of Qatar.
He went on a self imposed exile following several cases being filed against him in 2006 for having “hurt the sentiments of Hindu community by painting nude paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses.” Prior to this his paintings were attacked and his house too. The most absurd of all was his controversial painting of mother India being painted nude. This painting done in the 70s became a controversial issue only after decades. Few months ago I heard a young student asking a noted journalist about this controversial painting. It was evident from her tone that she was offended by the very idea of mother India being portrayed nude.
Several attacks by the Hindu fundamentalist groups pushed him to a self imposed exile in 2006. Later in the year 2010 Qatar “honored” him with Qatar citizenship. After almost a year and a half now he breathed his last in London. For all the attacks, for having made him to apologize, unnecessarily, for his paintings, for having pushed him to a self imposed exile, for having pushed him to surrender his Indian citizenship and for having made him breathe his last in an alien land, we Indians are to be ashamed.
It is not absurd by farce that Hindu fundamentalists have been targeting Maqbool Fida Hussain because as it is known to all of us that the religious art of this country has portrayed nude and semi nude paintings and sculptures for ages. Though M.F. Hussain kept saying the same and reminding the saviors of the great Indian culture about the same, nobody listened to him. In an interview to Sahar Zaman the artist spoke of his painting ‘the birth of Buddha’ where what we see is few women carrying an eye shaped palanquin with an elephant seated inside. He says, “When Buddha’s mother conceived Buddha she dreamt that she has conceived an elephant.” How many proud of the great Indians culture, heritage and history and saviours of Indian culture are aware of such minute details which are a part of the great Indian culture? It’s such an artist who happens to be one of the founder members of the Progressive Artist’s Group who was not just attacked by also made to apologize to highly regressive fundamentalist groups.
When the great theater artist and activist Safdar Hashmi was brutally murdered in broad daylight while he was performing a street play, M.F. Hussain condemned the murder and did a painting of Safdar’s death and the attack on the freedom of speech, creativity and expression. It was this painting of his which appeared before my mind’s eye the moment I heard about the death of M.F. Hussain because his death has left not only a vacuum behind him but also several questions regarding art, creativity and freedom of expression. It’s only by raising these questions and by answering them that we will be honoring the great artist and also, to an extent, cleansing the sin our nation committed by traumatizing the great artist. His painting on Safdar did raise these questions and now we need to raise these questions.
Maqbool Fida Hussain, forgive us. I know you will because there is a common connecting factor i.e. India, the country which you loved with all your heart.