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ARTICLE : Leave Husain alone

Title : Leave Hussain alone
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Free Press Journal
Date : October 7, 1996

Maqbool  Fida Hussain was once described by a  journalist 
as  the  nearest  thing to God on earth.  For  this  wild 
imagery in cold print - and a couple of cover stories  in 
the weekly that he was then editing - this hawala-tainted 
journalist  was  richer by at least a couple  of  Hussain 
paintings  Gratis. Which was a great bedge of honour  for 
the  journalist, for his then employer  supposedly  spent 
tens  of thousands of rupees to acquire the Hussains  and 
even then was unable to acquire the best of the  artist's 
works. Hussain obviously kept the best for those who lent 
their services to him to propogate the Hussain myth! And, 
in  these permissive times there are arguably any  number 
of  culture-vultures in the Press, politics,  bureaucracy 
and,  of course, in the highly incestuous world  of  fine 
arts  who thrive on sheer publicity. It will  however  be 
wrong  to say that all art is commercial, but Hussain  is 
nothing  if not commercial. His fans insist, not  without 
justification,  that he is India's highest  paid  artist. 
Surely, he is. But is he her best, too? Opinions natural-
ly  differ.  (History of modern art is replete  with  any 
number  of  instances when some of the  greatest  artists 
died  in penury virtually unknown, only to be  recognised 
as  such  posthumously.) Suffice it to  say  that  no-one 
courts controversy (Read publicity), and the rich and the 
famous  the  way Hussain does. And it has paid  him  rich 
dividends. It was Hussain who had depicted Indira  Gandhi 
as Durga during the latter's Emergency. Even artists  are 
expected  to have a conscience. Hussain revealed  he  had 
none  when  he endorsed the darkest  chapter  in  India's 
history  since  Independence. For his  proximity  to  the 
Establishment  he was nominated to the Rajya  Sabha.  How 
India's parliamentary life was enriched by his  induction 
is  not  known, but Hussain certainly  put  his  six-year 
sinecure  in the Upper House to good use when he  painted 
the  vignettes of parliamentary life for  commercial  ex-
ploitation.  The  point is that there is  really  nothing 
that he would not exploit to fuel the Hussain legend.  In 
that  lies his commercial success. And in these  days  of 
Hawala and telecom and a dozen other scams, one's success 
or failure, including an artist's is measured only in the 
price one is able to command. And Hussain indeed commands 
a  lot of price for his works of art! Even the number  of 
times he sees a Madhuri Dixit starer must be the stuff of 
society  gossip for it eventually enriches the  cause  of 
art,  these certainly add to his, bank  balance  substan-

His  latest  act  meant to further  burnish  the  Hussain 
legend  is  the painting of Hindu goddesses in  a  manner 
which  is  hurtful  to the sensibilities  of  the  devout 
Hindus. Depicting Saraswati and Durga in the nude in  the 
company  of various animals and identifying them by  name 
on  each canvas was bound to be a provocative act  for  a 
certain section of the people. Hussain, and his  numerous 
friends  in the well-heeled circle, cannot  take  shelter 
behind usual argument about artistic licence. Admittedly, 
the idea to insult Hindus may be farthest from  Hussain's 
mind.  But  if his paintings willy-nilly  have  the  same 
effect on a large number of the people, Hussain will have 
to  make amends. (Curiously, this artistic license  seems 
to  be  one-dimensional even for an artist  of  Hussain's 
stature for never has he drawn someone whom he is forbid-
den  to draw by the religious faith he pursues.)  It  has 
been  said by Hussain's friends that the  BJP-VHP  people 

are  behind the campaign against Hussain. Maybe, that  is 
true. But it would have been far better if the  so-called 
secularists  had respected the religious feelings of  the 
majority  community  and advised Hussain not to  name  on 
those nude paintings. It is a poor painting if the artist 
has  to take recourse the said paintings would  not  have 
attracted  the  kind  of notice Hussain  wanted  them  to 
attract.  The resulting controversy is bound to add  sub-
stantially  to  the  millions that  Hussain  has  already 
amassed  by marketing his works largely to the  cash-rich 
philistines  of  this country. Now that  those  printings 
have attracted media attention, Hussain may well have  no 
problem  expressing regret "it I have hurt the  religious 
feelings  of  my Hindu brethren..."  His  paintings  have 
become  value-added  anyway.  Whatever  happened  to  the 
artist  as  the conscience of the society?  The  socially 
aware  artist? The less said about Hussain religious  and 
political preference, the better. Let's confine ourselves 
to his preoccupation with commerce alone.

And  that  brings us to the  Manohar  Joshi  Government's 
purported issuance of a warrant of arrest against Hussain 
for  his  `objectionable  and  obscene  paintings.'   The 
overzealous  Minister for Culture in Maharashtra,  Pramod 
Navalkar, does neither the Hindu religion not himself nay 
good by ordering the arrest of Hussain. Hussain would  be 
sorrier,  only  if he were to be ignored. True,  that  an 
alleged  slur in a work of function called - The  Satanic 
Verses - had an religious community the world over crying 
for  the  blood  of Salman Rushdie. True,  too  that  the 
secularist  Indian Government was among the first in  the 
world to have banned that epic novel. But not for nothing 
do  the  two religious faiths differ sharply  in  certain 
crucial  matters.  Navalkar claims to be good  Hindu.  We 
believe  he  is. Since the mainstay of  Hindus  over  the 
millennia  has been its innate sense of  tolerance,  nay, 
its  ability  to turn other cheek, and  yet  survive  un-
scathed,  Navalkar would do well to order the  withdrawal 
of the arrest warrant. Instead, use those Hussain  paint-
ings to educate the people about the greatness of  Hindu-
ism.  Let  Hussain  wallow in his millions.  And  in  the 
misery  that will be his should he be completely  ignored 
in spite of a deliberate provocation.


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