It is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom

This whole controversy about M.F. Husain, his exile and his citizenship of Qatar has been so convoluted that ordinary Indians are confused. One big reason for this confusion is that the whole debate around M.F. Husain and his paintings has raised so many questions about Hinduism, Islam, tolerance and secularism that simple facts are being ignored. Let me start by pointing out some things our so called liberal journalists and intellectuals are afraid to admit. The fact is: many Hindus have, and will fi nd some of the paintings of M.F. Husain quite offensive. Showing grotesquely nude portraits of Hindu deities is bound to offend many Hindus. And I think, so called intellectuals who call these offended Hindus bigoted and intolerant are actually even more blindly bigoted and intolerant. How can you defend the right of M.F. Husain to offend and deny the equal right of some people to feel offended?

There is yet another valid point that many offended Hindus have raised. And the point cannot be ignored even if it is politically incorrect. What would have been the fate of M.F. Husain if he were a citizen of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and claimed that he – as an artist – has the intellectual freedom to portray revered historical and mythical figures of Islam in a manner that deeply offends devout Muslims? In fact, the question to be asked is: would M.F. Husain would have invoked artistic freedom and done what Salman Rushdie did when he wrote 'The Satanic Verses'? Let me go further and offend our so called intellectuals: Would M.F. Husain – now that he is a free citizen of Qatar – behave like an iconoclast artist and offend the Muslim citizens of that country? We all know now – at least going by media reports of his love for some finer things of life – that he is not a devout Muslim the way that term is (mis)understood nowadays. We also know what his fate would have been in Saudi Arabia.

So, I personally think it is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom. He is just about a normally good artist who with the media hype happening at the right time made it big and immediately learnt the tricks of marketing his paintings well. From branding his paintings with help of a recognisable logo i.e. the horse to walking barefeet- he did everything cleverly and rightly. His sense of colors makes his paintings bright but as with most modern art, its hardly much to write home about when compared to the art say for example from the renaissance period, that is really worth emulating. And yet, I think his exile and citizenship is actually a big loss for India. And for the Idea of India.

Let me start with the least important reasons why! For centuries, Hindu temples, monuments and literature have portrayed the erotic as one more manifestation of the so many paths towards spirituality and salvation. The fact is: Konark, Khajuraho, Ajanta and others are proof that eroticism was celebrated by at least a section of Hindus. We revere Lord Krishna and yet celebrate his interaction with the Gopis. In sharp contrast, Islam and Christianity have always been far more puritanical when it comes to their deities. You will not find any temple, scripture, painting or anything that would portray Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed in the manner that Hindus sometimes portray Lord Krishna. To that extent, you can argue that M.F. Husain was merely repeating what many Hindus before him have done.
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30/12/2011 02:48:36 pm

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