Friday, June 10, 2011

M.F.Husain - A Fairy tale Life

This iconic artist lived a life that reads like a fairy tale. I have never read the newspapers as avidly as I did today, lapping up every word written about the legendary artist Maqbool Fida Hussain. His impact on the world of art can be gauged by the fact that even for a philistine like me, who has but a less-than-superficial depth about art, literature and music (especially in things that really count), M.F.Hussain is the only artist whose work I can probably recognise. I cannot really recognise any other painter in this world by his art - not Picasso, nor Rembrandt, not by any style or colour - but with Hussain, I can hazard a guess. His style is very different - the lines are bold, confident and the colours equally striking. The themes are very Indian in a way that even if he were to paint a western person or thing, he would have Indianised it in some way. Nothing about his painting is pale or weak - there is a strength that one cannot but notice. In contrast, he looks very much the sensitive painter - lean, delicate and artist like in every way.

But an acclaimed artist he was and he would have had this impact on the world in some way or another. Especially for someone who is reported to have painted 10,000 paintings in his life! (10,000 paintings in a life that spanned about 35000 days!). He was unbelievably prolific. And creativity they say is not judged by the one fabulous work of art but by the many fabulous works of art you can do - to be more prolific is to be more creative. And to be more prolific and still several create works of great art is genius. And that the whole world agrees. That M.F.Husian was a genius.

I had recently passed through Pandharpur and it came as a surprise to me to read that he was born there in 1915. Ah, if I had only known that, I would have stopped for a while instead of focusing on getting to my destination. From such impoverished circumstances (lost his mother when he was one and a half) to Indore, to Bombay and by the age of 40, a Padmashri to his name in 1955, can only speak of talent that cannot be denied. And on and on he went, painting, sculpting, making movies and living a life as he pleased, free as the air. Of course we would not understand it, how it is to live in such a rarefied air, and we would question all that he does. But the fact is that he comes from spaces we have never experienced, has created spaces we will never explore in our minds, so  to even try and understand him will be futile. One should probably merely appreciate and be thankful that one has lived in an era of such genius.

M.F.Hussain's biggest contribution to me has been the way he has lived his life. A very unapologetic way of life. Where he did what he pleased, painted what he believed in, respected his art and the medium and fully dedicated himself to it. To me its a life than can inspire anyone to each the dizzying heights he did, if one wanted to see that. However most people with a voice in India seem not to choose to see that - they are happier commenting on his pictures of which they know nothing, the context where they come from nor even the subject of the paintings. And since they are not qualified to judge art they should not be allowed to judge art. The ones who can see the difference, who can understand art, unfortunately do not have a voice, including the poor government. It made my heart swell with pride to see the judgment by Justice Kaul on the complaints of Hussain's works hurting religious sentiments. He tore into the complainants and even the judicial system that had allowed such cases to come that far. It also amazed me to see the awards some fundamentalist Hindi bodies had put on him - a crore to behead him, 11 lakh to cut off his arms and some such stuff. In the past two decades since I have been sensitized to the issue, I have not seen these awards being taken seriously by anyone, including the government which seems to find the mildly amusing.

That Hussain lived in exile is known. It is an exile forced by some (a handful I would think), that the government could not handle, or chose no to handle. It is amazing that the government is so proactive in quelling anti-corruption satyagrahas (peaceful stuff and about a job that the government should be doing) but the same government remains completely inactive when vandals and anti-social elements threaten a renowned artist, an MP (again a job that it should be doing). I refuse to believe that a large number of Hindus have been outraged by his paintings simply because not many know what these paintings are about. Hussain apologised later for works which he had done in the 1970s, which came up for these hurt sentiments in 1995. Why it took so long for these sensitive Hindus to be hurt no one knows but it comes suspiciously close to the time when the pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim wave was on. No one targets Dawood Ibrahim of course nor announces rewards on him because of obvious reasons, but targeting paintings, books, artists, novelists is easier. There is an interesting account og how the hurt people went and destroyd some of Hussain's work including some paintings of Buddha and Ganesha! Did they not recognise them?

But talking of exile, it is interesting to see how hypocritical the Indian society is. We take credit for all the Nobel laureates, the ones who have cut their teeth abroad, the leading industrialists, the artists and novelists who have earned accolades abroad - but only after they win, does the Indian-origin tag come into play. Where are all the Indian artists and writers of Indian-origin and of world fame today? How many are living in India? How many have chosen to curb their creative freedom because they live in India? How many get an active support from the government, the people? We can start counting how many have fled India for want to a better atmosphere, a level playing field, more freedom and peace to merely be left alone to create what they have experienced. Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Hussain, Raja Rao are some of the names that come to my mind who were banned, threatened or merely chose to live away.  Why they cannot live here freely when all the criminals are able to roam around freely and sit in the Parliament, is what one cannot comprehend.

But unlike most others who are neutral, M.F.Hussain has been explicitly and eternally grateful to India and has always - if the accounts of people knew him are to be believed - wanted to come back to India. He has done more for Indian culture and the Indian identity than all the people who belong to the 'hurt sentiments' group put together, much more than they can imagine. His works will remain for much longer than they, will appreciate in value the world over, while their works of art protection and culture protection will always be looked at with displeasure, with suspicion. It is unfortunate that India could not fully embrace this boy from Pandharpur with the same warmth as he embraced India. But despite everything, at the end of it all, M.F.Hussain remains the victor as his work, his life and that he stood for will remain and grow stronger and stronger. And those who caused him much grief will only try to cash in on his legacy even. Even as the condolence statements of the Indian government heads and leaders ring hollow today,.M.F.Hussain looms larger than the void that has been created by his absence in the world of art - he will always remind us of how this nation treats.its creative sons and daughters

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