‘National Loss’, that’s how our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief over the death of India’s famous yet controversial painter, M.F. Hussain.
At 97, Husain was as prolific that was quintessential of the artist for he was working on Al-Ahrab, the Arab Civilization. Through a slew of almost 99 paintings Hussain Sahab was trying to pay a tribute to the unprecedented way in which this civilization had propelled the very race of humans be it in Astronomy, Science, and myriad other facets that have revolutionized the very lives of mortals inhabiting the Earth. This work was commissioned at the behest of none other than Qatar’s First Lady Sheikh Mozah, that was the stature of the painter who was hounded out of our nation and now his countrymen seem to be affected with a sense of bereavement that seems to be a mere patina on the face of sheer humiliation the artist of his stature had to endure.
His life was a mosaic of stints that are inspiring at one go and some others that might baffle, those that might ultimately compel you to simply appreciate his panache and prowess coupled with an unflinching commitment towards his inherent passion. His humble beginning comprised of painting for the posters of Bollywood films and then a big breakthrough came in the 1940s after which there was no looking back for the legendary painter. His work soon acquired the pedestal the entire nation could reckon with, after all Maqbool Fida was finally revving it up in his own charismatic way! While the year 1955 witnessed the Padma Shree being awarded to him, the other two Ps of national recognition were bestowed on him as well that included Padma Bhushan in 1973 and Padma Vibhushan Award in 1991.
The man who garnered some of the best bids when it came to auctions for he didn’t shrug one bit in taking up the cudgels at a time when few could imagine that art can command lofty figures as well. His creativity spawned across cinema as well as he came up with tableaus that might not be whopping commercial success yet carved a niche quintessential of Hussain that just missed out when it came to striking the chord with the audience. His very first film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ in 1967 was included to be a part of the Berlin Film Festival and came out with flying colors when it grabbed the Golden Bear. Gaj Gamini (2000) and Meenaxi followed but ended without even making a fizz at the box office.
The artist was literally hounded out of the country in 2006 when RSS activists coupled with legal hassles over his paintings depicting Hindu goddesses in alleged objectionable state were showcased, causing him to flee the country he had inhabited for nearly ninety years! It was one of his paintings that made the right-wing activists cry hoarse against the artist wherein a nude woman was seen bending in a way that came out marking the geographical contours of India, thus projecting herself to be Mother India. It did send quite a many fuming with inexplicable rage as they believed that the nonagenarian had transgressed boundaries he should have kept a safe distance from. While M.F. went into exile making Qatar his temporary haven, the question that pops up in my mind with a sense of what you may call general psyche being inflicted with double-entendre, is to what extent is it justified to inhibit anyone simply because it’s not gelling with your sensibilities. If you didn’t like his art or were not able to comprehend an inertia based reaction would have been to avoid going to galleries displaying his work. Perhaps it won’t be enough to satiate typical machismo ego that can’t assimilate it that easily.
Alas! The man who believed that Hindustan resided in his ‘Rooh’ (soul) died on non-Indian soil with an unfulfilled desire that someday he’ll be understood and be greeted with open arms yet again in his homeland!While the helter-skelter at least the superficial one continues or perhaps might have subsided as well, a pertinent contention that’s being missed out yet again is when would we stop manhandling our creative men and women and put an end to hobnobbing act that follows only when international honor comes knocking at their doors?