7/20/2006

Chasing Husain

An article I had written some time back. Blogging it now. Taken from my website at http://www.cds.caltech.edu/~nair/husain.php

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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.






Source:

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.

Both the above points makes me wonder what the true intentions of Sanatan are. My personal take is that Sanatan is just yet another mouthpiece for those who think that India is a Hindu Rashtra and not a plural secular democracy. Husain adopted the entire spectrum of vast Indian material (Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Tribal, Provincial). His works with Hindu materials proved him a Muslim who could transform art into this plural category, Indian. Refusal of Husain is a refusal of the secular project which underlies the very fabric of India.

The following is a MFH painting.





Source:

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. "

Source:

Asianart.com
.

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
with both."

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
India.

8 comments:

Ramesh said...

The idea that Hanuman looks Sita with Desire is blasphemous to say the least.

Does he dare to paint any of the Muslim icons as nude (rather "artistically nude").

It is not whether he appreciates nudity but he must respect the feelings of millions of Hindus, the same way he respects the feelings of Muslims.

We don't want hypocrisy. Don't go out of your way to defend him. Just being a carvaki does not mean you need to oppose every action of the Sangh Parivar and their affiliates.

SANDEEP said...

NOW A DAYS THESE ARE THE COMMON COMMENTS OF THE SO CALLED ART LOVERS, SO CALLED SECULARISM LOVERS, SO CALLED MINORITY LOVERS... TO REACT IN FAVOUR OF ANY ANTI HINDU PERSON ,WHETHER HE IS A ARTIST OR A WRITER OR A HUMAN RIGHT LOVERS OR ....... YOU CAN ADD ANYTHING ON AND ON AND ON.
THESE SO CALLED INTELECTUALS PLAY THE GIMICS OF WORDS TO PRAISE THE MINORITIES , WHICH GIVES THEM FAME , EXPOSER IN NEWS PAPERS, TV CHANNELS AND SO ON. THEY HAVE THR RIGHTS TO DO SO AS PER THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA.
BUT WHEN THE SCENERIO CHANGES.... A DANISH ARTIST PAINTS PROFIT PAIGAMBAR'S PAINTING AND 400,000 PLUS MUSLIMS ACCUMULATES IN MUMBAI TO PROTEST AGAINST IT, THESE SO CALLED ART LOVERS AND SO CALLED ........ GOES UNDERGROUND. THEY KEEP THEIR EYES CLOSED AND MOUTH STICHED. POOR FELLOWS... BUT HELPLESS.... IF THEY EVEN THINK TO SUPPORT THE ARTIST LIKE THIS..THEY ARE SURE THAT THEY AND THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS WILL NOT BE THE RESIDENTS OF PLANET EARTH.
JUST FORGET THESE HUSSAIN LOVERS. THEY ARE EVEN NOT WORTH TO TAKE A NOTICE. I HAVE WASTED MY TIME TO SHOW THE REAL FACE OF THEM. IT IS ENOUGH FOR THEM . SOMEBODY ELSE ... DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME BEHIND THESE USELESS FELLOWS.

Anonymous said...

I am in my sixties and have just re-started painting few weeks ago after 2 decades and was looking for inspiration and accidently I came accross your blogg like many others. MFH hussain has canny resemble of my father and we call him our 'lost uncle'. I started painting during my child hood and at the time when MFH was still doing cinema posters. MFH was my hero like impressionists cezzane,Piccaso, Vincent Gough...but he did create issues. My pride for MFH as an Indian - though I am not an Indian born - He was true hero. He unwittingly gave the ooportunity and most say deliberately (which I disaapointedly now agree)to the extremists to validate their claim. No Islamic nudes, No Christian nudes but only Hindu nudes...why? Sita on Hanumans tail indeed looks offensive not going as far as Praful Toghadia. Hindus have been offeneded and blame lies on MFH - saddly - and people like you have added fuel to fire. I am no 'Hindu' in stricktest sense and all forms of extremism fails me - even the type of extremism created by your blogg in name of sanity.

Anonymous said...

I did some research - as I am no Ramayan expert but my wife is a Sanskrit scholar and in blood follower of Ramayan - being from a strict Vaishnav family. What you suggest the painting 'Rescue of Sita..' is from Sunder Kand is correct but what you grossly fail to understand or realise is that in the entire Ramayan Hanuman has looked at Sita only ONCE in the face - ie when he noticed vermilion on Sita's forehead and this instance is related to Hanuman's love for vermilion - and no where else Hanuman has ever looked in the face of Sita. And this behaviour of hanuman is an essential part of Moral teachings of Ramayana. Other thing you have failed to notice is that Hanuman's back does not mean tail...sitting on tail naked looks extremely rude, obscene and insulting and Hanuman staring back at Sita is totally against the Morality teaching of Ramayana. AND YOU HAVE FAILED TO SEE THIS...very unfortunate.
I do not think that your opinion is correct as far as charge based on IPC code - MFH can be charged as he as a creator of such painting and intelligent humanbeing must be aware / should be aware that his portrayal are untrue depictions of Sita Hanuman relations and would cause political and social uproar. If MFH did not think this than his ignorance & naivity calls for investigation. If he could not be charged he would be back in India but he is advised of seriousness of charge. He should not be punished as far as I am concerned but he should respond to extremist's claims. Only MFH is to be blammed for giving extremists a toy to play with - and people like you - through such irresponssible & truthless bloggs - have added fuel to the fire.
God Bless.

joy4rintu said...

Whatever be the justifications made to the above picture,I couldn't see anywhere that seetha is nude in 'Ramayana'!
What is the intention behind picturising sita nude?
While picturising women other vthan Hindu goddesses,Hussain didn't opted nudity!
He is maniac,ofcourse!
No need to attack him personally as the islamists do against Thasleema,but simply ignore it!
Take it as his mental excentricity!

Bharat said...

The site www.hindujagruti.org provides many Hussain "nudes" along with "non-nudes" and asks why Hussain did not depict the latter (Faiz, Ghalib and Mother Teresa among others) nude. Now, who would want to see these venerable ones nude?

SUCHITT DAVE, ADVOCATE - SUPREME COURT OF INDIA said...

First of all – congratulations for this blog.

It is very creative and comes with probably controversial stuff, so much good so far.

First of all I could gather that you were referring to Mr. Prafull Goradia and his book “Anti Hindus”.

Mr. Goradia was a BJP Member of Parliament through Rajya Sabha (Upper House). Basically, I have known Mr. Goradia to be a very generous millionaire and he had used his money for good purpose. His initial affiliation to the Congress Party for many years is a well known fact, if you ever knew Mr. Goradia since 1980s.

May be right or wrong, he has chosen to go BJP way. I think his choice for BJP is a loss to Congress because Mr. Goradia is a very creative thinker and a man of intellect. Whatever be his choice, I think it is fair in a democratic country for people to choose whom they want to support or represent, if given a chance, in the legislators. In that sense, people from BJP or VHP / RSS are also Indians and therefore my brothers – I have no space for any despise in my heart, even for them.

Now coming to your blog… I think you have made a great attempt to say “Emperor is naked” – you know why? I feel, many people who harp on “Hindu” culture – are the ones who have never understood the greatness of this religion and the magnanimity it teaches. Look at Ramayan, Mahabharat, Gita and all those scriptures. You will never find any extremism; you will never find any hatred. You will find right way to live & think. It is simply a beautiful way of life!

I wonder how I can find flaws with others, when I am full of imperfections. Do Hindus follow Gita scrupulously? No. We celebrate “Janmashtami” – we don’t care what Gita taught. We had no such thing like “Caste-ism”. So what have we done to our brothers – Gandhiji called them “Hari Jan (God’s people)”. We insult our Gods every day by doing things that are contrary to our religion! It is human nature – we justify our mistakes and magnify other’s mistakes!

When Hussain paints nude photo of Hanuman we feel offended. You know it is a joy to fire others, find faults with people. Mobs enjoy ravage. Religion does not require huge processions on streets. It is love with God – call it with a name you prefer – Ishwar, Bhagwan, Khuda, Jesus - whatever.

But are these religious people? NO. They are businessmen. They are traders trading feelings of people. Billions of dollars of funds are gathered by those religious institutions. They are not taxed.

We are progressive nation. We have no time for intolerance and street fights. We have to develop. We have to focus on basic issues like infrastructure, power, telecom, education, health and the list is very long. We have a divide in India. We have a portion of those who want to get into political debate and religious fights. There are others who want to use feelings for personal or political gains. Yet majority of Indians are Indians, they love business, education, development. We cannot turn into Afghanistan or Pakistan. We are NOT like them. Nobody can turn us to create a mind-set like that! Nobody is custodian of Hindu culture – this great religion existed when none of us were alive and will exist when none of us will be alive. We must not be like a dog under a bullock cart – thinking the cart is carried by it! – that is stupidity.

With new generation coming Рbelieve me, religious controversies will be pass̩.

Hussain will then have liberty to express himself – without having to bother about those mundane criminal cases in the trial courts!

Suchit Dave,
Advocate – Supreme Court of India,
Vice President, DCC, Indian National Congress.
Blog: http://www.suchittdave-attorney.blogspot.com/

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