M F Hussain is probably one of the most well- known Modern Indian Painters , also part of the Progressive Artistes Group of Bombay. MF Hussain with all that fame and popularity, was also very humble, down to earth and an endearing person to all those who came into contact with him. I happened to see him interact with the children at Bangalore, where a school at Koramangala, close to his house had conducted an arts exhibition of paintings and drawings made by the students and some local artistes as well. He was the guest of honor and he came on time, sat with the children, making suggestions and interacting with them. He even showed them how to use the brush and the charcoal. Before departing he greeted all of us people gathered there with folded hands with a shy smile. At that time we were not to know that he would leave for the UK within a few months because of the controversy and the problems that arose with it! However, M F Hussain is still remembered by the residents with affection ! 

The intolerant society we live in!

We see a lot of intolerance in the society not just in India, it has become a global phenomenon which has been growing more violent by the day. It is not just religious intolerance but intolerance against life style as well. From their side, many of the artistes and writers fail to understand the sensitive feelings of people who are extremely touchy about religion and their god. They take the term artistic freedom too far failing to realise that there is no total freedom when you live in a multi-cultured society, you need to respect the beliefs of other people. They also fail to realise that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, like they have the freedom of expression, so do others who express their opinion often very strongly when they feel that their own faith is being questioned or made fun of.

In MF hussain’s case that is exactly what happened, he failed to realise the public feeling in his bid to express his artistic freedom through his paintings. He should have realised this fact before painting nude Hindu Goddesses because he was part of a community which was/is extremely intolerant,  when it came to religious issues. MF Hussain became victim of a hate campaign which I personally think was started as a measure to hit back after the Salman Rushdie episode. Fundamentalism has no logic and we saw it happening recently with another great artiste A.R Rehman being hounded by the same kind of hate filled brigade. It happened with Salman Rushdie the writer after he wrote The Satanic Verses,  is still being hounded after decades and Taslima Nasreen from Bangla Desh who has been living in exile since 1994 .

The charged Hindu groups, who were extremely hurt by some of Hussain’s paintings attacked him verbally and later he had to flee the country after his house in Bangalore was attacked by the miscreants. MF Hussain spent his last years in the house built in Bangalore which has now been converted into a heritage restaurant.

MF Hussain as a Muslim Painter

There are many arguments put forward by some people who feel that being a Muslim he was hounded much more. But one can see that being a Muslim artiste did not in any way hinder MF Hussain in his growth as an artiste of repute within India. In fact, he became a famous painter because of the encouragement he received from the people of India, who appreciated his paintings . In fact he was given a free 4000 sq ft plot by the Karnataka government  under the artistes quota, in the upmarket Koramangala area where he built a palatial house and lived there for a number of years. Recently, after his demise, the house has been sold for a very high price to a hotelier, thereby making his children financially self -sufficient !

The major problem with his paintings was the way he depicted them – ‘Durga in a sexual union with a tiger,’ Goddess Lakshmi naked on Ganesha’s head, Naked Sita, Naked Draupadi, Naked parvati , Naked Bharatmata, Naked Brahmin with a fully clothed Muslim King. Now, when we contrast these paintings with his other paintings -  fully clothed Mother Teresa, His own daughter's painting where she is fully clothed, Muslim poets and ladies fully clothed. One wonders what exactly was he trying to prove?  Did his artistic expression work overtime while depicting Hindu deities or is that how he imagined them? Either way it showed a very insensitive side of an artiste who failed to perceive the pulse beat of the majority group within the very society he was living in. 

Many people have wondered about these contradictions in him as an artiste and a private individual who from all accounts was loved by his neighbors and everybody else he came into contact with. One can openly say that he lacked sensitivity while depicting figures related to religion and religious beliefs. This made him unpopular with the masses, majority of who were Hindus. More so because this lack of sensitivity existed only with Hindu deities and not when he painted other gods or people. 

The later years

MF Hussain after facing rage and controversies that even went to the extent of physical abuse by some elements decided to leave India. After MF Hussain fled from India, he spent his time in Qatar which was his adoptive country, where  his son lived and later in London. In fact, he was more at home in London because of the cultural atmosphere there, and he became a well-known figure among the Indians and artistes living there. He breathed his last on the 9th of June, 2011 in London.

Coming to the question as to whether he deserves all the honor bestowed on him, one can never be sure because of many issues. His art was Modern Progressive Contemporary which is actually a mish-mash although it does have beauty. I have seen the modern artistes gallery in London, Hamburg, Belgium and Florence. I personally feel that MF Hussain’s paintings do not come up to the standard of those artistes although there are a couple of MF Hussain’s paintings displayed in Hamburg and London.

His paintings may have fetched a good price from the Indian perspective but that is not a yardstick for measuring quality. Some of his paintings on India civilization series are very good but certainly not the controversial ones of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, since there is no beauty in any one of them and they hurt the eye because of the manner in which they have been depicted.  

On the whole it is clear that he got much more than what he deserved as an artiste probably because he was liked by all and his paintings too became more famous and popular because of the many controversies surrounding them and not because they were in any way great!

Conclusions

MF Hussain was committed to his art having started his career in painting from the age of 20, as early as 1937. By the year 1950 he had become internationally known. He was also the highest paid painter in India with a couple of his paintings fetching as much as 2 million dollars.

No matter how one looks at it, MF Hussain remains a famous and popular painter who in a way made other countries take note of Indian artistes. Although we had great artistes and painters in India, they were never considered at par with other European painters until MF Hussain came into the scene. As an individual he was a well liked person and even today remembered by many Bangaloreans who were in constant interaction with him while he lived there.


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