M.F. Husain – Marathi Manoos
Mumbai is the only city in the world M.F.Husain calls ‘home’. Husainsaab is as Maharashtrian as ‘jhunka-bhakri or vada- pav. Mumbai has been the painter’s home for close to eight decades. It is the one destination he celebrated as a very young, very broke aspiring artist when he got here from his birthplace, the holy city of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. He embraced Mumbai and Mumbai embraced him. This passionate love affair continued over the years, with the prolific artist graduating from painting film hoardings to putting India on the international map as its foremost contemporary artist. His horses galloped across the world, breaking records and he himself became the desi art world’s most powerful brand. But through it all, he remained the quintessential Mumbaikar at heart, prowling the city’s gullies ( barefoot, of course), stopping for a quick ‘cutting chai’ at the nearest Irani café, and chronicling every aspect of our drab lives in bold, brilliant strokes that startled viewers with their virility and assurance.
Today, the 94-year-old Mumbaikar wants to come home. The same home he was forced to flee four years ago. He has been living in exile, tormented by the thought he may never set foot in the land of his birth again. Isn’t it time we showed enough grace, courage, courtesy…just plain and simple ‘tameez’… by welcoming him back to his motherland? Yes, the very same ‘Bharatmata’ he stands accused of having desecrated? Without going into the politics of that complex issue, let it be said that those who are vociferously opposing his return and threatening a frail, old man with violence, are the ones who have appropriated the role of the nation’s moral keepers. Isn’t it high time we grew up and took a more enlightened view of the situation…. regardless? One can debate the merits of the numerous cases against the artist till the cows come home. This is not about legality, but human decency. Can we not find it within ourselves to close that ugly chapter and give Husainsaab the benefit of the doubt? Why do his critics assume he had wicked intentions when he chose to paint the subjects he did?What did he have to gain by inviting trouble – big trouble? He has been hugely successful for decades, he doesn’t need publicity stunts to sell his works. Nor is he dumb enough to offend people deliberately and not be aware of the consequences.
Perhaps what Husainsaab had failed to factor in was the growing intolerance in our society – the same society that once prided itself on its acceptance of plurality and diverging views. The same society that still calls itself a democracy but comes down cruelly on anyone who doesn’t toe the line. The tragedy in Husain’s case is that his shrillest and most virulent critics are those who have never seen his work! These are the hired hands of political parties out to create mischief and propagate nasty, narrow- minded theories designed to spread hate, misinformation… and more. It is they who are far more dangerous to our society than any artist. These are the same people who encourage a non-entity with zero artistic merit to ‘fix’ the nonegarian genius by painting Husain himself in the nude! What pathetic levels we have descended to, if we genuinely believe we are punishing one of our greatest living legends by stripping him off his clothes on a canvas.
Husainsaab’s anguished ‘crie de coeur’ has obviously not reached the right ears so far. Political heavyweights in Delhi are said to be sympathetic, but cautious.With the Congress in power at the centre and state, the climate is slightly more relaxed, less paranoid … but as Husainsaab has pointed out, who can protect him if even his art can’t be protected?Who has the guts to stand up for him ( and others in similar situations)? Most intellectuals have lost their voices, his own contemporaries are ‘scared’ of retribution, galleries refuse to show his work since they find it too ‘risky’. That leaves the ‘aam aadmi’ – the most sensible, fair and aware individual in the country. Why not ask him? How about a national debate – should M.F. Husain come home before it is too late? Let the public see his work in its totality – unedited and unprejudiced - and let the people of India take that call unitedly.
Husain is a proud Indian and Mumbaikar. Our city has seen enough violence and venom. As the macabre 26\11 anniversary rolls up, it is time to ask ourselves whether we wish to perpetuate the politics of hate….and at what cost? Why not choose this significant date to get Husain back, and mark his return with open arms… and more importantly, an open mind?Why not demonstrate to those who are determined to persecute him that we are prepared to stand up for a man whose art transcends the narrow confines of religious jingoism and twisted interpretations that serve petty political interests?
If that happens, I’ll be there at the airport to welcome him home.
How many of you are willing to join me??
It is always such a pleasure to be in Pune, especially when the weather is this crisp and delicious. What that means is simple - I over ate - starting with a luscious duck ( from Bangalore), and a rainbow trout ( from the Himalayas ). I was there to inaugurate an art show featuring emerging talent from Pune. It's an annual event called SHLOK, which is put together by young Sheetal Darda. She plans to take it to Dubai and London next.
I met up with family as well - my husband's sister Ratna lives in Pune, and I was delighted to meet her grandson Drik, who is fluent in Marathi at age 7. Raj T. would approve! Ratna and her daughter Rina , produced a Bong banquet, which starred the famous Rui Maach, besides kosha maangsho ( outstanding - must get the recipe), dahi chicken, begun bhaaja and what is popularly known as 'plastic chaatney' (raw papaya in a fragrant, sugar syrup). What a brilliant meal - and let me not forget the roshogullas. No wonder my masseuse told me later I'd put on weight ( instantly???). I totally ignored her unnecessary comment.... and ate some more .
Oh.... in case you notice the weight gain in the Kingfisher Calendar Hunt show on ndtv Good Times ( the repeat is on monday 12 noon and tuesday at 10pm ), please don't tell me about it! I have received great reactions - so allow me to glow!!