Remembering MF Husain

I feel ashamed as an Indian that a proud, eminent son of my country, Maqbool Fida Husain, could not come home to die.

Kuldip Nayar June 12, 2011

I feel ashamed as an Indian that a proud, eminent son of my country, Maqbool Fida Husain, could not come home to die. That was his wish. As a Hindu, I feel doubly ashamed that a religion which has followed a sense of tolerance and accommodation is being hijacked by a few fundamentalists who adjudged that Husain’s paintings were sacrilegious. Gods and goddesses, they believe, have to be depicted in a way which they think is sacred.

Who decides this, not the Kashi Pandits or Kerala’s Namboodripads or well-versed scholars, but a bunch of terrorists who hide their credentials under the name of Bajrang Dal. They are fanatics. Their agenda is political and they masquerade themselves as crusaders of piety. I am not surprised that the founders of the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), have not uttered a word to mourn Husain’s death. It is a national loss.

BJP leaders, whether L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj or Gadkari, who sit on a high horse of values, never liked Husain, not only because he was a Muslim but also because he thought differently. Their type of Hindutva knows no freedom for artists or writers. They and their ilk should have shown penance by bringing Husain’s coffin to India for burial. What they denied to him in his lifetime should have been remitted at least in death.

The last rites have been conducted in London and he will probably be cremated there. But the Indian people should demand that the coffin of India’s pride be brought to their country and buried near Jama Masjid at Delhi.

The government’s statement that it had offered Husain security does not absolve it of inertia. It was bogged down in a morass of political confusion and exaggerated fears about religious tolerance. Not even once did the government challenge the bandicoots. It adopted a course of least resistance and even gave in by removing his paintings from national exhibitions.

Yet it is the nation which has to assert itself when it comes to the freedom of expression to an artist. We parade ourselves as a democratic, secular society, but how false is our assertion since we could not even bring Husain back to his country when he repeatedly asked for a safe return. The ignorance of the voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. Husain’s security was our responsibility. We have failed him and we have failed the international community which looks towards India as a country that upholds its values and heritage. A society is known by its culture but what culture, when it has no space for its artists?

I met Husain for the first time when he was carrying a few canvases on his bicycle. He was walking because he could not balance the bicycle with so many paintings. He wanted me to buy at least one. But I did not have the money, which I recall was a few hundred. In any case, I did not know anything about art at that time.

We met occasionally and struck a relationship which was more than acquaintances. He came to India’s High Commission to meet me when I was the high commissioner. I requested him to do a portrait of Maulana Azad since the mission had portraits of all its national leaders on the walls but not Azad’s.

We never met again— a period of 20 years. But I expressed my anger in my articles over the helplessness of the government and the nation’s neglect. Now that Husain is gone, I wonder if we will ever rectify the wrong which we did. I have attended some meetings in Delhi for his birthdays but strangely enough none in the civil society ever held protests or demonstration to say: Husain is ours and he should have been given the highest place in the country. The government, which is now shedding crocodile tears, awarded him only the Padma Shri. It is still not too late to award him the Bharat Ratna.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2011.


abhi | 10 years ago | Reply @Ankita Toshniwal What is your point about sari, I cannot understand? Do you mean to say that before islam came to India, Indians used to roam naked? what kind of logic is this. if blouse is Islamic influence why the name is in english? I think it is time you come out of your dream world. We know that there may have been changes in clothing style and fashion due to interaction with outer world. But how is this relevent to MFH making paintings of gods and godesses in nude and doing inappropriate actions. Did he have some time machine and went into past and saw all these things and painted them? He was born and brought up in current era and the moral standards of current era apply to him.
S. Asghar | 10 years ago | Reply Likes on extremist comments say more about Indian Junta trolling on this awesome website.
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