POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Jun 09, 2011 AT 01:05 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 09, 2011 14:57 IST

The first and only time I met Maqbool Fida Husain in person was walking down Park Street, Calcutta, many years ago. I was with a friend who recognised the barefoot figure in white. He had been in the news then for having been denied entry into Saturday —or Calcutta —Club (or perhaps both) because he, as was his wont, wanted to walk in barefoot. I don't quite remember whether the Telegraph had already been launched then, or if was the Statesman —one of the two for sure —that had helpfully reminded us that these were the very clubs that once, not too long back, used to have such signboards as "Dogs and Indians not allowed". I remember that all of us in school were suitably outraged and quite kicked with the idea of this barefoot bohemian, stirring up things a bit for the burra sahibs with his bare feet. (We didn't know then that it was a bit of a PR stunt that he seemed to have perfected).  So seeing him strolling around, perhaps soon thereafter, somewhere near Flurys, we walked up to him and asked for an autograph. He didn't put on any airs, just smiled, asked what we studied and where and, without any fuss, doodled a signed sketch of the two of us. I still vividly remember it: fluent, firm strokes with a thick, black felt pen on the back of a cream-yellowish postal envelope. We proceeded to lose it before the day was out, but that's quite another story.  And at that time, frankly there were no major regrets. Besides, we reasoned, it would in any case have caused problems about which of the two of us would get to keep it.

Years passed. Mr Husain was out of my consciousness till his old paintings of Sita caused a furore sometime in the late-90s. He offered then to publicly apologise and withdraw and destroy whichever paintings were found objectionable.I was provoked enough to take to writing impassioned, unpublished letters to the editors of newspapers in protest.  Meanwhile, routine protests against his various paintings continued by the likes of Shiv Sena/Bajrang Dal/VHP//BJP etc. It was all very vile, but had not yet assumed the viciousness of a concerted campaign that was let loose after the Prophet Cartoon controversy  brought things to a head in 2006. In UP, a Samajwadi Party minister offered  Rs 51 crores to anyone who would chop off the hands of the Danish cartoonist. No legal action was taken against him. It was as if the floodgates of all competitive communalism and politics had suddenly opened up:

In Gujarat, a local leader offered a kilo of gold to anybody willing to gouge out Husain's eyes. In 2006, a fringe organisation calling itself the Hindu Personal Law Board offered Rs 51 crore for his head. Shortly after that, Madhya Pradesh Congress minority cell vice-chairman Akhtar Baig offered Rs 11 lakh to anybody who would chop off Husain's hands.

Our archives tell the shameful, sordid story of the way he was hounded out of India after that. Checking the (mostly) graceful reactions today from various (at least official) quarters, I do not have the heart to go over the FAQ I had hurriedly compiled last March when news of his having renounced his Indian passport to take Qatari citizenship trickled in.  The very idea of encountering  those done-to-death arguments is exhausting, but there's a distinct memory of what Javed Akhtar had said then:

You see, Husain has not gone to Qatar. I don't remember the title of the story (but) Camus, in one of his short stories, has written that the master tells the servant, "I am going away from here now" and the servant says, "Where are you going master?" and he says, "Can't you understand? I am going away from here. That's where I am going." Husain has not gone to Qatar. Husain has gone away from India....:

It is true even more today, now that he has gone away forever — and not just from India. Yet, as Vinod Mehta had reminded us then, it wasn't quite the case of a high-principled creative genius fleeing persecution who was "pining away in his Dubai penthouse, Ferrari at hand, for his beloved homeland. That is pure humbug."

It was a sentiment that Husain, despite the specially bestowed poignancy of his situation on him, I suspect, heartily endorsed. He was honest enough to himself acknowledge factors such as sponsorship for the sort of work he wanted to do— and taxes—  as reasons for choosing Qatari nationality. Which is why, I think, he wouldn't quite have liked the maudlin sentimentality of the Seemab Akbarabadi verse wrongly attributed to Bahadur Shah Zafar that was invoked (mostly incorrectly) by very well-meaning people today with respect to the circumstances of his death in exile.

It may not be politically correct to say this, but it needs to be said: he chose to be away. He was too much his own man, and with more than enough means, to not live on his own terms, wherever he was. And it is a great disservice to his memory to reduce him to a situation of caricaturised, pitiful helplessness. 

He was much bigger than any do gaz of zamiiN.

Also See: M.F. Husain: FAQ

POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Jun 09, 2011 AT 01:05 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 09, 2011 14:57 IST
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Daily Mail
Jun 13, 2011
09:49 PM

All those whose heads are hanging in shame for MFH, do not feel any shame when government unleashed lathis on sleeping persons in midnight. This tells a lot about their character.

Pune, India
Jun 12, 2011
06:56 PM

 MFH is an obscene painter in contrast to Picasso !

At this point of time until the end of the month (30 June 2011), the Museum of Modern Art in downtown San Fransisco, near where the 3rd Street just crosses the Market Street at a distance from the Castro end, is holding an exhibition of the Stein collection of Picasso's painting along with some of Matisse and Braques on the fourth floor. One finds there some striking portraits of Gertrude by Picasso where Picasso  by his masterstroke displayed splendidly the serene beauties in virtues of women.  There is also a work by Matisse of a female head with majestic colours exploding.

I doubt if any of Hussain's paintings of Saraswati (and other Hindu godeeses) can stand up to that standard of Picasso and Matisse as a creation of art. Where Hussains excels over Picasso (and others such as Matisse) is in his pornography.  Has he ever drawn Saraswati dressed as a sublime woman as Picasso did for Gertrude ? 

Picasso (and other famous artists) have drawn nude women figures, but nowhere one finds there pornography as in MFH's works. I repeat MFH is known to have indulged in his works on Hindu Godesses with a sick bigoted mind indeed.

A tip for those who could visit the Stein exhibition. Please do not miss the coffee on the fifth floor, that is best in SFO and may be one of the best in the world !

Pinaki S Ray
Adelaide, Australia
Jun 12, 2011
02:26 PM

One thing that really amuses me is the way our MSM (Main Stream Media) keeps weeping about MFH dying in some strange country outside India.

Now let us deal with hard facts. MFH was born in a lower middle class background but through his own effort and enterprise struck it big in the world of Modern Art and amassed wealth. All said, he is no Sai Baba - he is not a philanthropher or someone who worked for the masses. He earnt wealth, and invested it wisely and spent it and lead a happy and prosperous life that put him in top 1% of population. The very fact that when he was forced to leave India, he took refuge in Dubai (a place that is friendly towards the global rich elite) shows that he was surely not suffering in poverty at any time. And yes, as someone who grew out of his own efforts (and not out of public money like our poltiicians and political dynasties), he deserves and is fully entitled to his lifestyle.

The sore point about our Indian MSM is the way they weep about MFH being forced to die out side of India . Hey Indian MSM , have you ever cared to check on the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who are living in penury in refugee camps? Many of them have spent a generation outside their homeland, and dying in a foreign land, amidst penury and poverty. Have you ever cared to point this out?

And what about the hundreds of thousands of Kashmir Pandits, forced outside their ancestral homes, now living in places far away as Delhi and Mumbai ? Many of them have grown old and dead too, all outside the valley? Do they really matter to you?

MFH lead a good life, died in prosperity that he deservingly earnt and yes, he lived a very long life of 95 a longevity 99% of Indian Males never get. Given this , it is quite normal for media to pay obituary. But it is entirely abnormal for same media to write pages and pages about MFH and his death outside india. He is not a publicly elected personality, nor a socio political worker , just an artist who worked hard, struck it rich, enjoyed a very good life (by all standards) and happened to hurt the sentiments of  quite some folks. Why so much fuss about his death? And coming in the backdrop of a massive public movement against black money, does it smell fishy? Is it that India's ruling family wanted MFH death as an opportunity to divert attention ? Or to escape responsibility from protecting MFH and also similar folks (remember the Kerala professor whose hands were chopped?)?

Delhi, India
Jun 12, 2011
02:10 PM

Freedom of Expression should idealy have no constraints. Which means that if Mr A has a right to paint the picture of a Hindu Godess in Nude, Mr B should also have the right to paint the picture of a Non Hindu Religious Prophet in whatever way he wants.

Unless we guarantee this "Freedom of Expression" to everyone and anyone in this nation, there is no point in talking about freedom. When i say guarantee - i mean the state should guarantee that the life of Mr A or Mr B is not harmed in any way by those who are offended.

And if we cannot , why dont we admit it straightaway without making any fuss? Why dont we go ahead and enact a law that makes painting the revered icons of any religion in an unacceptable manner, a offense?

The question is straightforward - either we allow all kinds of expression or allow nothing. But our MSM is simply not interested in this question, they are only looking at a political agenda here. Again they fail - the primary duty to protect Mr MFH from the so called threats of Right wing Hindus lies with the government, particularly the government of India that is the UPA -2. Atleast till May 2014. And the government has failed in that. Yet, the MSM looks the otherway. Maybe MFH's death was a timely god send for the India's dynasty supporters to divert attention from the ongoing public campaign against black money?

Delhi, India
Jun 12, 2011
04:42 AM

M F hussain is over hyped. Period! I say this without any malice towards this great  painter .Mind you, I would gladly walk a mile to see his original paintings any day. His control of an expressive line and exquisite proportions of his  compostions are beyond compare. His use of colour is not only distinctly individual , it is nothing short of revolutionary. No doubt about his craftsmanship. Art History will mark him as a milestone. Beyond this all else is sophistry. Hussain throughout his career had an eye for a "sale". He started by painting film posters and continued painting saleable subjects all his life. Remember his  horses? He knew his potential buyers were amongst Indian business community and so he went on to paint all those Religious images he thought are saleable. He was successful in marketing them. As far as all the controvercy about his style of depiction is concerned ; I like to think that poor man did not know his subject so well . He was just trying to paint something that will sell.  An artist must be responsible to oneself at least. Creative expression means that you'll never do stuff you do not belive in . Hussain's work shows that he did not belive in those icons exactly like when he painted a poster for a movie. He did not have to belive in Aalam ara to paint her  visage. He painted Indira as Durga !!! He was like the greeting card seller who starts by selling Diwali cards in October; by December he is selling Merry christmas cards and by March , Happy Holi cards. He was a great, prolific and successful painter though. Not such a greatly honest artist and comparatively an intellectual pygmy. Even when compared with just other member's of the progressive group. Calling him Indian Picasso is an insult to everyone involved starting from Picasso and several other exceptional Indian artists. The fact that he had received a huge commision to paint  Qatari and Arab history had influenced his decision to move to Qatar. This guy knew which side his bread is buttered. Do not make him a martyr. He was a great painter so let be and let him rest in peace. His life's work will tell all other tales.

Ashutosh Kaul
Toronto, Canada
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