People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 10

March 07, 2010



Sad Day for Our Democracy


IN the wake of the news report that appeared in The Hindu on February 27, to the effect that M F Husain has been offered honorary citizenship of Qatar, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Trust) has re-issued the letter it had sent on November 15, 2006 to the then president of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. So far, the SAHMAT says, it has not received an acknowledgement of or any response to the said communication. It is a sad day for our democracy when an artist of the stature of Husain might change his citizenship. The letter, the text whereof follows, speaks for itself.

We, the undersigned, write to you to suggest that the arts and the nation would be made proud if the contribution of the distinguished artist, Maqbool Fida Husain, is recognised in the form of the highest award of the land: India�s Bharat Ratna.

M F Husain has received national and international recognition in abundance; it remains for him to join the constellation of Bharat Ratna awardees --- Satyajit Ray, M S  Subbalakshmi, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Lata Mangeshkar --- to become one the most treasured artists of this country. A large number of artists, art historians and critics, as well as spectators in the general public, believe that M F Husain, the 91-year-old painter and filmmaker, most fully belongs to this constellation.

The Indian civilisation, in all its diversity, has been Husain�s basic inspirational project. Since the year of Independence, through the Nehruvian decades and thereon, cognisant of all the challenges involved in nation-building, Husain has been steadfast in maintaining a most affirmative relationship with the Indian people�s consciousness of their national identity.  Through him, we have learned to address a whole gamut of issues pertaining to the interactive dynamic of modernity with the country�s many-layered art and culture.

We believe that he has made a signal contribution in reworking the aesthetic traditions of India including especially the tradition of iconographic innovation. He is among those few modern artists who have focused on mythological and epic narratives, and, for over half a century, he has painted themes from the epics in literally thousands of paintings and drawings. This alone speaks of his passion for these narratives and, further, of his understanding that their literary, performing and visual form has changed through the centuries, and therefore carries the mandate for new articulations within the contemporary.

Equally important, these series of Husain paintings have been shown in urban and rural sites through unique modes of public dissemination. And it speaks of the generous comprehension of this project by viewers all over India, viewers who cut across barriers of class and culture, that they have been received with the affectionate regard and playful participation they require.

Posterity will certainly name Husain as one of the most prominent post-independence artists to shape the contemporary in the spirit of a living and changing tradition. More than any other modern artist in India, he has understood how a syncretic civilisation and the dynamics of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation have together prompted these interpretations and empowered the community of artists to evolve a uniquely modern language consistent with the complexity of these civilisational narratives.

Indeed, Husain is such an iconic figure that we could use the very iconography of Maqbool Fida Husain, of the person himself, to forward ideas about Indian visual culture in the framework of a dynamic public sphere. Already, his life and work are beginning to serve as an allegory for the changing modalities of the secular in modern India --- and the challenges that the narrative of the nation holds for many of us. This is the opportune, and crucial, time to honour him for his dedication and courage to the cultural renaissance of his beloved country.

Signatories to the letter included Vivan Sundaram, Ashok Vajpeyi, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Krishen Khanna, Ram Rahman, M K Raina, Geeta Kapur, Arpita Singh, A Ramachandaran, Aditi De, Akbar Padamsee, Alaknanda Patel, Amit Judge, Amiya Bagchi, Aneesh Pradhan, Anil Chandra, Anuradha Kapur, Arun Vadhera, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Astad Deboo, Atul Bhalla, Atul Tiwari, Aziz Mirza, Bal Chabda, Balkrishan Doshi, Bharati Kher, Bhaskar Chandavarkar, C P Chandrasekhar, D N Jha, Dadi Pudumjee, Dadiba Pundole, Dolly Narang, E Alkazi, Gayatri Sinha, Geeta Mehra, Gitanjali Shree, Indira Chandrasekhar, Indra Pramit Roy, Irfan Habib, Javeed Alam, Jayati Ghosh, Jitish Kallat, Jogen Chowdhury, Jyotindra Jain, K Bikram Singh, K G Subramanyan, K T Ravindran, Kedar Nath Singh, Kekoo Gandhy, Khorsheed Gandhy, Krishen Baldev Vaid, Kumar Shahani, Kundan Shah, Laxma Gaud, Madangopal Singh, Madhu Prasad, Madhukar Upadhyaya, Malini Bhattacharya, Mani Kaul, Maya Rao, Mira Nair, Mihir Bhattacharya, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Muzaffar Ali, Nadira Babbar, Nagji Patel, Nalini Malani, Namwar Singh, Navjot Altaf, Neelam Man Singh, Nilima Sheikh, Paramjit Singh, Paritosh Sen, Parthiv Shah, Prabhat Patnaik, Prasanna, Pushpamala N, Rafeeq Elias, Raj Babbar, Raj Rewal, Rajeev Bhargava, Rajendra Yadav, Rajinder Arora, Rajiv Sethi, Ram Kumar, Ramgopal Bajaj, Ranbir Kaleka, Reene Saini Kallat, Renu Modi, Saeed Mirza, Sangita Jindal, Sashi Kumar, Sasidharan Nair M, Shashi Tharoor, Sheba Chhachhi, Shireen Gandhi, Shireen Moosvi, Shubha Mudgal, Shyam Benegal, Sohail Hashmi, Subodh Gupta, Sudhir Chandra, Sudhir Mishra, Sudhir Patwardhan, Sukumar Muralidharan, Suresh B V, Teesta Setalvad, Tyeb Mehta, U R Ananthamurthy, Veer Munshi, Vidya Shah, Vijay Bagodi, Virendra Saini and Zarina Hashmi.