Guys.... I know, I know.... don't say it. I have gone missing. Pity I am not Amitabh Bachchan. He is one dedicated-to-the-blog dude.... he is at it day after day, no matter what!! I love this space as much as he does , and would love to do the same. BUT!! Last week has been particularly beastly. Next week looks worse. I leave for the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai, get back on Sunday. And leave for Paris on Monday. Why Paris? Well.... for a book launch. It promises to be super special. Have to keep details under wraps for now. Watch this space...
This also means my blogging will get erratic. But blog , I will!!
This column appeared today. I am bracing myself for more lewd mail.
Nobody can ever be in M.F.Husain’s shoes, mainly because he doesn’t wear them. Perhaps that’s where it starts – at Husainsaab’s unshod feet. Most of his countless critics believed this was an affectation, even an attention seeking device. I have been present when people have attributed all sorts of silly motives to the artist’s resistance to footwear. He has been labeled a poseur and worse for refusing to trap his restless feet in anything –even chappals. A snooty South Mumbai club famously denied him entry seeing his bare feet ( this was at the height of his popularity in India, and made headlines). The truth is Husain likes to feel the earth under his feet and insists he gets a tremendous amount of energy from that physical contact. But if you imagine Husain never ever wears footwear, think again. Even he is not such an extremist as to walk barefoot while loping around the globe during winter. Meet him in New York, London, wherever during those harsh, bitterly cold months and you’ll find him wearing smart boots to protect his toes from freezing. He knows frostbite does not spare painters – no matter how great. That’s Husain - a pragmatist first and everything else next.
The reason I’m stressing on his shod\unshod feet as much is to establish one incontrovertible aspect of the 95- year- old’s fascinating life – Husain may live on his own terms – but he is perfectly flexible when it comes to his own survival. All his widely publicised interviews this week made one thing abundantly clear – if he has to choose the survival of his art over almost anything else, he’d pick art. Why?? Because when it comes to his work, it is his life . Nothing but nothing else matters. We, in India, foolishly asked him to provide an ‘explanation’ for accepting the citizenship of another country. He could have told us to get lost. He didn’t. He knew the implications of his bold decision and realized this went beyond just him. He stated succinctly that he wanted to continue painting in peace. In an environment that gave him abundant love and respect. Period. The projects he’d undertaken were monumental, he needed monumental funding for them and Qatar came up with the right package . Most importantly, Qatar offered him a stress free environment in which to create. He pointed out that tax breaks and monetary considerations were also given their due importance by him. But the bottom line had mainly to do with his personal sense of safety. Surely, at 95, he is entitled to make such a choice without everybody jumping down his throat,denouncing him for turning his back on the country of his birth. A country he insists he will love till his last breath. Is that so tough to accept…. understand? Not if you are ready to switch places with M.F.Husain and ask yourself what you would do in his situation.
Let’s face it - India didn’t leave him with much of a choice.
One just has to examine the hate mails doing the rounds in cyber space to get an idea of the venom behind the focused campaign against the painter. I was appalled, ashamed and embarrassed to receive several such letters which asked me whether as a Hindu I was so ‘weak’ that I was ‘allowing’ such attacks on our Gods and Goddesses to go without protesting? Some mails carried twenty or more images of these ‘offensive’ paintings which the senders claimed were maliciously painted by Husain to denigrate Hinduism and display his contempt for Hindu deities. The arguments were as shallow as they were cowardly. Given the closed minds behind these emails,there was no point in defending his works . I tried. And received a record number of nasty, abusive letters lewdly demanding, “ How would you feel if he painted you, your mother and daughters in the nude?” Some of the anonymous writers went beyond mere questions and went into explicit, graphic and violent sexual content that is too vile to repeat. If these so called defenders of Hinduism thought nothing of sending pornographic threats to a woman, how could they accuse Husain of insulting Hindu Goddesses?
We live in super touchy times. And these are super touchy issues which will be animatedly debated for years to come – much after Husain himself is dead and gone. This unhealthy, awful state of affairs is not new. It has gone on through centuries and will not stop with Husain’s work. As of now, the man has spoken. He is happy with his decision. Why not leave it there? He has the right to live and work in whichever corner of the world he chooses. He has chosen Qatar. Qatar offered him the best deal – monetarily and emotionally. End of story. If we want Husain back all that badly, let’s match the deal…or better it, if possible. That’s how it works, doesn’t it? It’s business, baby. But even if we can come up with the money ( ha!), can we also come up with the level of protection M.F.Husain requires?
In one stroke, India’s greatest living artist has proved one thing categorically – he is priceless. Let’s deal with it. India and Indians can no longer afford Husain. Our loss, entirely. Lucky Qatar!