If you are wondering if this is about chasing Saddam Hussain, no its not! This is about a very versatible and enigmatic photogenic icon of India, Maqbool Fida Husain (MFH). MFH is one of the founders of the Progressive Arts Group , formed on the eve of India' Independence. Inspired by Western Expressionism, the PAG aimed to create a new form of national aesthetic for India. Forbes magazine recently declared him the Picasso of India.
I recently came across a campaign to "punish" Husain for his "blasphemous" painting which apparently "denigrates" Hinduism. The website for the campaign is Sanatan.org. Among many other things, the website claims that the paintings depict Hindu Gods and Goddesses in nude forms, bestiality and crosses all limits of decency. One of the Sanatan.org readers has even pledged a reward of Indian Rs. 100,001.00 to anyone who "teaches Mr. Husain a lesson".
After doing a bit of background check on this issue, I hope to express my take on the matter here. First and foremost, the painting captions on the website are taken from another book titled Anti Hindus by Prafull Goradia. They are not the original M. F. Husain captions and are there only to mislead people and channelizing their emotions so as to reach the conclusion which Sanatan wants. You can read many of Prafull's articles here and form your own opinion about him.
Artswithoutborders.com. Title: Sita Rescued
If there is anything called perversion, it is the interpretation of Husain's paintings by Prafull, who even goes to the extent ofinterpreting the above painting titled "Sita Rescued" by MFH to be a depiction of Sita masturbating on the long tail of hanuman. Indeed, pornography lies in the eyes of the beholder! Looks like Prafull is one of the few lucky guys in the evolution chain on planet earth who need not spend a penny on pornography. He can see one in every image. "Sita Rescued" most probably represents a scene from Valmiki's Ramayana in the Sundara-Kanda chapter. Here is Sandeep Dougal's version:
the image it conjures up in my mind is the scene in the Sundara-Kanda of
Valmiki's Ramayana, where Hanuman after tracing Sita in Ashoka grove
of Ravana's Lanka, suggests to her: (all quotes from the Ramayana of
Valmiki, trans. P.Lal)
"Climb on my back, devi, and I will take you back to Rama. I will fly
over the ocean. No one in Lanka will dare pursue us."
And Sita says:
"I now see that you are indeed capable of carrying me away from here.
But I must think of the consequences. I do not think that it is right
that I should go with you. Supposing your wind-swift speed makes me
giddy and I tumble off your back into the shark-and-crocodile-infested
sea? I cannot go with you. You will be in danger. The rakshasas will
rally and attack you, and when you engage in combat with them, what
will happen to me? What will I do?"
Now, is it not possible to view this painting under question as an apt
illustration for this incident? Couldn't Sita be clutching onto the
tail out of sheer, to use her words, giddiness?
Second point is that the picture description offered by Sanatan is taken from another group called the Sanskar Bharti. This is a group based in India which has in the past worked closely with other radical groups like Sangh Parivar, VHP which has in the past protested (sometimes violently) the celebration of Valentine's Day, shooting of Deepa Mehta's film "Water", ransacked beauty pageants, stoned theatres screening "Fire". In all these cases, it has acted as a "moral police" to protect Indian culture. In one case, the VHP even destroyed an exhibition on Ayodhya as it depicted the Jain "Dasharatha Jataka" verion in which Rama and Sita are siblings. The painting description which Sanatan gives are all what Sanskar Bharti offered them.
The following is a MFH painting.
Asianart.com. Title: Hanuman V
The picture description for "Hanuman V" at Sanatan.org is
"Lord Hanuman with His genitals pointing towards a woman
The title of the painting is Hanuman - V. It is done in water
colour on paper. It shows a three faced Hanuman, and a nude couple
(male & female). The identity of the woman is not in doubt. The erect
genital of Hanuman is bent in the direction of the female. The
obscenity is too obvious. Would it not injure the feelings of Hindus ?"
Really ? Is the "obscenity" so obvious ? I dont think so. The inspiration for this Hanuman paiting by MFH is well described below (Note its similarity with Nikos Kazantzakis' theme on the eternal struggle between flesh and spirit):
"In the "Hanuman" series we encounter this selfless servant of Rama and
Sita in a new light. Selflessness may be a noble virtue, but it is
achieved at great cost to one's person. In a particularly moving
picture, Husain fills the entire canvas with the figure of Hanuman. He
is seen sitting in a meditative position, attempting to train his
noble mind on distant, impersonal and spiritual thoughts appropriate
for contemplation. Husain appears to stress the point, made by several
Indian philosophies, that action is not incompatible with
contemplation--rather, they complement each other. While the brave and
valiant Hanuman tries to concentrate on his meditation, the naked
figures of Rama and Sita can be seen in the foreground. Although they
occupy only a small space in the painting, they are painted in deep
hues and drawn with much sensual detail that show the male figure
eagerly pursuing the female. The self-absorbed couple play out their
happy role in the presence of Hanuman, whose devotion and loyalty
makes him entirely "invisible" to them. But Hanuman does see, although
his mind wrestles against the feelings generated by the erotic scene.
Husain's Hanuman is affected by desire, by the sexual carryings on
of the semi-divine lovers before him. Does he cast a desiring eye on
Sita? Husain portrays exceedingly well the struggle Hanuman undergoes
as he strains to look beyond the immediate surrounding and into an
impossibly distant other place. The noble servant tries not to be
moved by the scene in front of him in which a private act is performed
before him as if he did not exist. The desire provoked in him is
unlawful, and to look at the this scene of lovemaking is forbidden to
him; he must, eunuch-like, behave as if he is not touched by it. His
meditation is hampered, but it is the meditative mind that he most
needs in order to calm his strong and confused feelings. The energetic
and youthful servant has suddenly grown old, his face is tight and
drawn, his whiskers have turned white. "
Compare the two paragraphs and conclude for yourselves who the "pervert" is, Sanatan.org or Husain. If Sanatan.org is to be taken seriously, we will have to burn our Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita Govinda, Kalidasa etc. All of these texts have various forms of imageries and stories with sexual themes, both in the context of "normal" human beings and between Gods.
By burning Husain's paintings or stoning his home, it will do nothing but potray some idiots, who are ignorant of their own sacred texts, cultures, philosophies and traditions, as lynchmobs or book burners.
God knows what these guys would have done to Kalidasa, Valmiki, Jayadeva and others, had they been alive today. Remember that the most dangerous form of religious practise is what humble saints usually refer to as "spiritual pride".
Let me now answer a couple of silly questions which an astute reader might have after reading all this. Some of these were raised in various online discussion groups.
- How should we punish Husain ?
- In a modern society, someone is punished only if they are guilty of a crime. An artist is not guilty for being one or for doing art which he or she believes in. Hence, no artist is a criminal by default. Husain needs no punishment. Also, if someone is hurt by his paintings, ignore it. Boycott his exhibitions and dont bid on his paintings. But please dont try to force your views on others, either by means of loose laws or through intimidation. Realize that there are others who may find your views disturbing. Would you be happy if they forced their views on you ? Would you be fine if others decided for you what you should read, write, watch or draw ? Democracy is NOT about having one view or interpretation. It IS about accomodating conflicting views. The price one pays for free speech is that occasionally, one encounters stuff which he/she finds offensive.
- Didn't the supremo Bal Thackeray say that Husain has crossed
his artistic license ?
- Dear reader, in today's modern free world, there is no such thing as an aritstic license. Art is very subjective, dynamic, subtle and ultimate form of human expression. It is not like driving where you go, take a road test and get a license to practise. Every artist should have the complete freedom to express his or her thoughts without fear of being beaten up. If you dont like it or dont agree with it, ignore it. Let the world and market decide for itself whether that particular art is worth seeing or buying. Please dont go around burning books or stoning houses of people whose art you dont like or dont have the capacity to understand.
- Can Husain be arrested for violating Indian law ?
- Article 19A of Indian constitution gives people the freedom of expression and speech. Some have claimed that Husain can be charged under IPC 295A which states
"Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of
outraging the religious feelings of any class of
citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written,
or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise,
insults or attempts to insult the religion or the
religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term
which may extend to three years, or with fine, or
I doubt Husain can be charged with deliberate and malicious intention to hurt others. There is no evidence he does his painting with such intentions. Infact, we only have evidence to the contrary. That he does his artwork with sincerity and after thoroughly studying his subjects. Even in the extreme case that someone does manage to make this case, given the efficiency of the Indian legal system, it wont be resolved in Husain's lifetime. Remember, he is already 81 years old at the time of this writing. Also, there are lots of pending cases still in court, to be solved before we even get close to Husain's. Bal Thackeray, Ashok Singhal and many others are way ahead in the queue.
- If Husain cannot be charged under Indian law, what do we do
with him ? Should we banish him to some remote island ?
Just leave that old harmless guy alone. Go after the big fishes if you really care about India. Spend the time fighting corruption, bad governance etc. Mother India will shower you with her blessings if you manage to get her free of corruption, unemployment, poverty, ignorance, intolerance, pollution, etc.
- Is Husain a member of ISI ? Al Qaeda ?
- No. There are no evidences for these statements.
- Is Husain anti-Hindu ?
- No. He understands the spiritual and philosophical expansiveness of Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Hindu texts better than most of these so called "protectors of Hindu Culture".
- Why does he only paint Hindu Gods and Goddesses then ? And why nudity ?
- This is not true. He has painted themes across the whole spectrum of Indian philosophies. Its just that people who want to demonize him have focussed on a small subset of his works. Hindu epics are so vast, so complex, so ambiguous that its not very difficult to cast any given situation, whether ancient or modern in these epic imageries. Regarding nudity, let me quote Husain himselves: "In art, nude figures mean purity, you see them in our temples." Here is my take on nudity. If a nude picture makes you hard or wet, that only reflects your thought process. (Recall the Sukhabrahman-Vyasa story or the Two Buddhist Monks Crossing the River story ). It has nothing to do with the painting. In art forms, nudity also represents without ego, without ignorance, without illusions and any other human made coverings. The purest form in Nature and as innocent as a new born baby.
- Is Husain a terrorist ? Is he a threat to humanity ?
- No. There is no evidence for that. Leave him alone.
- Does Husain need psychological treatment ?
- No. He is a very normal regular person. Maybe his genius and abstractions makes him appear abnormal to some.
- Are you anti-Hindu ?
- No. Leave me alone. Click here if you are interested in knowing more about my religious belief or philosophy.
- Why do you support Husain then ?
- I am only supporting free speech and expression. That does not make me anti-Hindu.
- But you are against Bal Thackeray's speeches.
No, I am not. I recognize his right to free speech. And so do I recognize the right to free speech of Sangh Parivar, VHP and others. But I do resent for example the Shiv Sena hooliganism and their past activities like disrupting Ghulam Ali concert, their threats to Pakistan cricket team, their violent protest against Valentine Day celebration, their attacks on movie theatres over Fire, their hostility towards Jain vegetarian buildings etc. We dont need a "moral policing".
- Some related links and an article by Shohini Ghosh on censorship in