Maqbool Fida Husain passed away on June 9, 2011 at around 2:30 early in the morning after having suffered a heart attack, in London’s hospital, The Royal Brompton. The burial will take place at a private ceremony today, in London itself. It was Husain’s wish to be laid in rest in which ever country he died. His decision of not to come back and not be buried in India is quite palpable.
Husain had been living in exile since 2006 and kept oscillating between Dubai and London till last year when he was offered the citizenship of Quatar. His controversy regarding the paintings of the Hindu Gods and Godesses became as much a part of his life as his paintings. His paintings became his worst enemies. But before dwelling into that let us look at his journey from being a mere billboard painter to becoming the ‘Picasso of India’.
Husain moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) at the age of 20 to support his family. He had a passion for painting since the age of 14 but gained recognition only in 1947 with Sunehra Sansaar that was his 1st painting to be exhibited. The art-o-holic soon became the highest paid painter in India. His success was noticed and recognised by the government of India as well and he was awarded the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan in 1955, 1973 and 1986 respectively. The strokes of his brush were bold and so were the depiction of his paintings. His art was extremely contemporary and his style bohemian. No matter where life took him, he carried India in his heart and art with him. His canvas has always been a tribute to the culture, traditions, mythology and epics of the country. No other painter has made such a contribution through the medium of his/her canvas. M. F. Hussain has made more than 10,000 paintings in his lifetime. But paintings were never his sole passion. He was infatuated by Bollywood for the longest time. Who knew a guy who used to paint cinema hoardings would be directing and producing films in Bollywood one day? Though he had made films with Tabu and Madhuri Dixit, Madhuri was always his all time muse.
His love relationship with India and Bollywood wasn’t as long-lived as desired. His 2006 self- imposed exile turned out to be a major shocker and disappointment to the country. Husain was accused of ‘outraging religious sentiments, promoting enmity between religious groups, selling obscene material and disturbing national integrity’. The cause got blown out of proportion once it was taken up by the Hindu fanatics who indulged in blackmail, harassment and intimidation. Appalling messages like rewards for beheading him, scooping out his eyes and chopping off his hands were being sent out. In the midst of all this, the UPA government failed to provide Husain with security and to top it all the Delhi High court passed a judgment in 2008 concluding that an artist his age should be sitting at home and painting.
Keeping aside the madness started by the Sangh Parivaar his paintings did hurt the genuine Hindu sentiment. If the religious fanatics would have let the law take its own course Husain would have been answerable to a majority of the Indian population. In his paintings of Godesses like Durga, Lakshmi, Paravati and Saraswati have all been depicted naked along with Hanuman. In his paintings of Bharatmata and Draupati they are naked as well and Gandhi has been decapitated. His depiction of Muslim men and women are far more nuanced. Paintings of his daughter, his mother, Prophet Mohammed’s daughter among others are all fully clad in clothes. What kind of secularism and freedom of expression is this? Why did his perception change while painting men and women of his own religion? These are a few questions that will just remain unanswered.
The fact remains Husain was the most successful painter India has ever had. His white hair and beard, his shades on even in shade, his huge paint brush that he carried everywhere he went, barefoot, his entire persona said more than we could ever comprehend. And now that he is gone it would be best to brush aside matters of the past, and paint a new canvas with paints of secularism and fairness instead of intimidation and terror. India doesn’t want to lose another Husain for sure.