People's Democracy

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


No. 30

July 24, 2011


Celebrating Husain


Madan & Rajendra


Mārā dayār-e-ghair meň

mujhko watan se dūr

Rakh lī mere khudā ne

merī bekasī kī sharm.

(My Lord thus saved the honour of my haplessness that he caused me to die in an alien country, away from my own.)

                                                          --- Mirza Ghalib


Maqbool Fida Husain:

Birth – September 17, 1915; town Pandharpur, Maharashtra.

Death – June 9, 2011, in London, Britain.

Circumstance of death – Self-exiled.

Burial – In Britain.


HUSAIN Sahib is now no more with us. Having led a life full of events, having won international fame, he left us at the age of 95……


Tormented by the unadulterated communal attacks launched by the Sangh Parivar, fed up with the politics of legal wrangles, deprived of the heritage of syncretic culture of India, Husain Sahib finally said adieu in a state of intense melancholy.


The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) has been, with firm faith, determination and boldness, challenging communalism of every shade, exposing it, fighting it during the last two decades. The “Artists against Communalism” was, and is, an important link of this very campaign. It was founded at a time when the Toyota rath(!) of Shri L K Advani was moving ahead, without any obstruction, without any apprehension, trampling upon the national unity of this country, immersed in a bloody passion, making fun of our composite Ganga-Jamni heritage. That was a time when all the artists of this country --- painters, dancers, sculptors, musicians --- came forward to become a part of this very “Artists against Communalism” campaign. Husain Sahib was then seen in the very front row of these artists. His relationship with the SAHMAT continued all through his life.


Even though Husain Sahib had had to leave this world in exile, away from his Hindstan, the Hindstan present in his inner self never left him; nor did he ever disassociate himself from this drive to protect the Ganga-Jamni culture of our Hindstan. What else can be a better proof of his urging than the fact that the same year he completed a huge, 30 feet long painting based on the Ramayana.


It was in the very fitness of things that on July 2 evening, with the same painting in the background, a number of renowned painters, playwrights, actors, singers, dancers, writers and other artists, as also other intellectuals as well as common citizens, assembled in the lawns of Vithalbhai Patel House, at the call of SAHMAT, to say bye to this unique veteran of creativity and Indianness. It was obvious that if Husain treated every moment of life as a celebration, this farewell to him could be in the form of a celebration only.


It was therefore not surprising that while the brass band was playing the tune of “Ramayya Vasta Vaiya” on the occasion, artists carried umbrellas which had had Husain’s pictures on them and danced to the tune being played. The T-shirts they wore on the occasion also depicted the scenes painted by Husain. Eminent stage artist M K Raina was one of them. As the light dimmed, a number of lanterns were lit. As we know, umbrella and lantern too were the two identities of this bare-footed world-renowned artist called Husain, directly linking him to a common Indian.


Two very big banners put up in the lawn carried newspaper cuttings from various parts of the country and from various languages. These gave one an idea of how India not only claimed Husain as its own but also felt proud of the extraordinarily high status he had achieved in the world of art --- giving a rebuff to the communal campaign of the Sangh Parivar and despite the fact that Husain had accepted Qatar’s nationality in the last part of his life. Virtually all the newspapers of the country not only lamented Husain’s demise in the exile; they also described it as a big loss to India, Indianness and Indian art.


At this informal programme, as the evening descended, members of Husain’s family and other artists shared their reminiscences about this great artist. In her short statement on the occasion, Anjali Ila Menon underlined that the government of India was no less guilty as it had allowed a person like Husain to opt got exile. She also reminded that in view of Husain’s towering creative personality, the matter did not end with a determination of the government’s guilt.


Aparna Kaur recalled an event that took pace about three years back. She had brought some minors to an exhibition of Husain’s paintings organised by the SAHMAT, and these included a painting of Mother Teresa done by Husain, when a violent group reached there, began to tear the paintings apart, break the chairs and destroy the screen. She described as tragic the fact that “Husain, who showered so much love upon everyone, had had to encounter so much hatred in the last part of his life.” She told how, despite being a great artist, Husain used to buy the paintings of new artists like her in order to encourage them. She also recalled what Husain had said while leaving the country: “I wish to tough the soil of my country just once, if possible.”


Renowned painter Vivan Sundaram, released on this occasion a booklet brought out by the SAHMAT. It carries a comparatively long piece by eminent art critic, Geeta Kapur, in evaluation of Husain’s artistic endeavours. The piece by Ram Rehman details the artists’ struggle and intervention, through the SAHMAT, in defence of Husain. A poster designed by Parthiv Shah was also released on the occasion; it showed Husain leaning against a wall, with an umbrella in his hand. Madan Gopal Singh, well known singer of Sufi poetry, released this poster.


Addressing the audience on behalf of Husain’s family, Owais Husain told why Husain wanted to destroy all his works before his death. He was of the opinion that now when Husain has turned from an icon to a legend, history would decide what is to be done to his works. In fact, this statement was in itself an answer to the question the speaker had posed. Husain’s son, Shamshad, himself a painter, was also present on the occasion; he has always been actively associated with SAHMAT’s campaigns. Also present were Shafa’at Husain and Mustafa Husain, the other two sons of Husain. Each of the four was later presented a copy of the booklet and the poster, apart from an umbrella and a lantern, as a reminder of the day’s celebrations.


In fact the celebration started from Dhumimal Art Gallery situated in Connaught Place, in the very heart of Delhi, where an exhibition of Husain’s paintings was put up. It was after a gap of several long years that a public exhibition of his paintings was organised. Alongside were exhibited the paintings created by a number of artists from all over the country in 2009, as their presentations to Husain on his 94th birth anniversary. Scores of artists assembled here below a mural painted by Husain, with umbrellas and lanterns in their hands, wearing t-shirts that carried the scenes painted by Husain. It was from here that they took a Metro train later to reach V P House where the evening programme was scheduled to take place.


The programme concluded with a procession of artists, with a band playing in their midst. In this form they reached the nearby headquarters of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) where one can see another mural painted by Husain.


This celebratory farewell given by Indian artists and cultural workers to Husain, their senior and respected artist, as if cast a doubt upon the very truth of Husain’s demise in dayār-e-ghair, an alien country. Truly, the fact of big artists’ exile is a very complicated matter ---


Merī jāň tumko samjhāūň

bahut nāzuk ye nuqtā hai

Badal jātā hai insāň jab

makāň uskā badaltā hai.

(“Come my dear, let me tell you what very delicate point it is: a man too changes when his abode gets changed.” These lines are from Turkish poet Nazim Hikmat, rendered into Urdu by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.)