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Raj Kumar Makkad (Adv P & H High Court Chandigarh)     05 March 2010


The news that painter in exile MF Husain has been given Qatar nationality by that nation's ruling family has triggered sentimental pleas from his admirers here to return home. However, it is unlikely that the celebrated 95-year-old artist will do so, with about 900 cases, perhaps more, reportedly pending against him. On his plea some years ago, the Supreme Court transferred the cases to Delhi, clubbing them together. Given the inordinate delays in judicial proceedings, the sandglass may well run out before they are resolved. Their genesis lies in his depiction of some Hindu goddesses and Bharat Mata in the nude. There is a sketch that Husain made in 1976, of an unclad goddess Saraswati. Sita has also been divested of clothes in a painting. There is another one of goddess Durga, apparently in a suggestive pose. A 2004 oil painting shows the image of Mother India as a naked woman, spread over the map of India.

Hindu activists and bodies were goaded by these portrayals into filing cases against the painter, after his artistic licence came to their knowledge. He was charged with offending religious sentiments. The immediate provocation was reproduction of the paintings in 1996 in Vichar Mimansa , a Hindi monthly magazine, in an article titled, "MF Husain: A Painter or Butcher". Their anger continued to simmer, exploding when, in February 2006, an English weekly published an advertisement titled "Art For Mission Kashmir". It reproduced the painting of Bharat Mata, which was meant for auction in a fund-raising event for earthquake victims in Jammu & Kashmir. The painter was already living abroad when this happened. A non-bailable warrant had been issued against him when he did not respond to summons.

In view of concerted opposition in India, his return became an impossibility. People now may be willing to forgive him in the event that he issues an apology. But the artist's plight is reminiscent of that of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who lamented in verse, "How unlucky is Zafar! For burial / Even two yards of land were not to be had, in / The land beloved". For the artist's period of exile has seen him pining to return home, without being able to fulfil this desire. His son confirms this bit of news. He says evocatively that whereas one can take Husain out of India, one cannot take India out of Husain. And it is aptly put since his evolution as an artist owes completely to the social and cultural ethos in which he lived and thrived until his enforced exit.

As he has accepted Qatari nationality, he ceases to be Indian because under the law, dual citizenship is not permitted despite sustained lobbying to change the rule. It is ironic that Islamic Qatar should give him asylum though nude depictions are considered sacrilegious under Islamic law. As for nudity in the Hindu socio-cultural context, it is not anathema, with the mystical tradition holding it to be symbolical of the absolute, shorn of the veil of illusion. This is the reason why some great saints, both male and female, have been known to remain naked, as do Naga sadhus and Jain munis, without any trace of embarrassment. Two female mystics, Akka Mahadevi in the south in the 12th century AD, and Lal Ded in Kashmir in the 14th century, threw off their clothes as an encumbrance as they roamed about. Akka's vachans are a great contribution to Kannad bhakti poetry; and Lal Ded's vaakh are credited with the creation of modern Kashmiri. Goddess Kali, worshipped as the primeval mother by her devotees, is forever sky clad. This is the digambar state, when no covering or vestige of concealment remain. In spiritual terms, it is the highest condition of truth. And in Left-hand tantra, s*xual rites and imagery in art and literature are integral to its esoteric regimen. This is the reason why the sculptures at Khajurao and the like are not reduced to sacrilege or worse despite the explicit and even bizarre s*xuality depicted in some friezes.

However, art created with a commercial purport does not elicit the same kind of respect or tolerance. Since Husain's nude figures are meant for private collections, galleries, exhibitions and even auctions, they cannot have the sanctity inherent in religious art. While it is debatable whether the painter meant any disrespect to Hindu sentiments, as the numerous law suits filed against him claim, it is certain that artistic liberty has proved costly for him.



 1 Replies

Sarvesh Kumar Sharma Advocate (Advocacy)     06 March 2010

very well said mr.makkad.

i respect yr views.

jai hind

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