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Of Husain, Indians and People Like Them
by Dr. Amitabh Mitra Bookmark and Share

The controversy over the passing away of Maqbool Fida Husain has quietened, over the years people in India would also forget him other than a few doddering artists and intellectuals who might be thinking of a similar or even worse fate and response from the ruling government, their Padma Awards safely tucked away in a far corner of their Godrej Almirah.

Somebody said that everybody (friends, intellectuals, scribes, poets and artists including me) cried shrill only when he passed away. Yes, I must admit that this did happen. I in my own small way wrote a poem a few years back for him and a few other intellectuals squeaked but nobody went to the Ram Lila Maidan when he was hounded out by communal elements. Nobody fasted; nobody even took out a candle light vigil in his favourite Mumbai. None of the cabinet ministers went to stop him from leaving India.

But then this is India and we all happen to be Indians. Politicians and Gurus have always attracted the masses of this nation as much as the opium of Bollywood. One would find a crowd of people outside the residence of any Member of Parliament at New Delhi. There would be a long queue of favour seekers waiting as early as 6 am in the morning. But a lower middle class Indian gets entranced, a dream realized just by a nod or a touch. 

As per Wikipedia more than nineteen people has Z plus security. The Z plus symbol is considered a status symbol in India. The Z plus category has a security cover of thirty-six personnel. Baba Ramdev had demanded a Z plus security for himself. M F Husain Sahab was never given a thought of any security by the regional or the national government. In an IANS coverage, Asked about the government not assuring him of adequate security to facilitate his return,  Satyavrata Chaturvedi said that the government provided security to all its citizens. "If he (Husain) needed more security, there is a process for that. He can demand more security," the Congress leader said. 

India remains a vast abode of people who have least to do anything with Arts and Culture not to forget cities like Kolkata who happen to pride themselves as the very bastion of Arts in India. I don’t think we can even blame them when we are witnessing a leap towards an unbridled advance in Science and Technology. India is suddenly being termed as an economic reality. An Indian parent grooms their children towards such careers which provide a financial security. Creativity in any field takes the back burner. Children in India are made to think and realize a certain profession till they reach the end of a line they happen to start with. 

An upper class Indian’s drawing room has ancient portraits of families either in photographs or an artist’s sketch. Yes, a majority of millionaires which include Bollywood actors, actresses, politicians and industrialists do boast of having many of Husain’s work adorning their lounge.  Husain was also a great giver. He gave his work for free to thousands of charities and individuals who even happen to be a nukkad panwalla or a close friend like Shahrukh Khan. But there are thousand of artists, known and unknown whose works don’t sell simply because an average Indian doesn’t believe in buying art as much as the same individual might never have thought of buying a poetry book. Poets don’t even believe in buying their own poetry published elsewhere.

Manjit Bawa passed away in December 2008 after being in coma for a long time. His death was a non entity happening at New Delhi. 

….Violence was the afternoon
Manjit drew in rude
Delhi summers
Riding words of a chiasma
Violence is the afternoon
We saw him in flames
Of years and layers
Untold by a dark
Violence he left
Is you and me
And a coherence of
Irrefutable days
He chose to give

Artist/Poet Jatin Das was attacked by a mob recently. He escaped unscathed.  Rakshat Puri a major voice in the Indo-English Poetry Movement reminisces of his pre-partition days in his poetry, India that he would love to be. He never received any Padma award. Mani Shankar Aiyaar talked about Husain in his blog, the demise of literati and arts in modern India in his impeccable English peppered with sarcasm and humour.

Cities like Gwalior have moved up from the time I knew it intimately.  There are malls and Adidas emporiums but not a single book shop that sells and caters to the aspirations of young and hopefuls in Art and Literature.  There is a Government funded Gallery which has a huge collection of Arts and Sculpture in its collection but has seen better days since long.  Talented artists like Yusuf have moved out of Gwalior and Icons of the stature of Vijay Singh Mohite have left us in their own quiet manner. Close friends and families mourn his departure. His huge canvases remain an identity to only a very few would give a passing glance.

Husain’s last days as a Qatari citizen was spent in creating huge murals which were commissioned tracing the history of the Qatari civilization. He did mention that the work which was of gigantic proportion made him weak and sick. He even found it difficult to continue. He had cardiomyopathy having had a bypass surgery in nineteen eighties. Strangely, the Qatari Government that gave him a citizenship never uttered single word at his passing away in London.

How would we remember Husain in the years to come? His work fetched millions at Sotheby immediately after his death attended by Indian glitterati in London. How would we remember our Generals with Param Visishta Seva Medals who are thrown to the far corners and forgotten after retirement? One such embarrassment was during the passing away of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw at Wellington when a junior minister was dispatched to represent the Government at his funeral.

Sadly my children would not know Husain, being brought up in a South African environment and having taught to study the Boer Wars instead of South African Arts. They wouldn’t know Dumile Feni nor Maqbool Fida. I cannot help them nor the millions of parents whose children study Medicine, Engineering and higher Sciences in the University. But will they ever learn to look at a beautiful thing and appreciate, will any of them decide to take the brush and paint or even take the pen to write, to quit their profession and turn to chase full time such ambitions. Super-Specialists in my hospital moan all the time about inadequate salary hikes and professional satisfaction. They are sadly unaware of quaint humane values, the earthy feeling of being touched by a wayward wind, the sun or the moon.

My close friend from my Gwalior days, Dr. Swapan Mookerjee, teaching at Pennsylvania in United States says -

Was it not the early Mughals who observed that this land was devoid of gardens and the people least concerned with the finer aspects of life. In the Baburnama, Babur's autobiography, he extols the beauty of flowers in India and declared the mango to be the best fruit of Hindustan. Is this what it takes? For an outsider, a conqueror who probably laid waste to so much during his invasions, but yet, was perceptive enough to appreciate beauty when he saw it?

Is this what MFH's epitaph will record? Exiled but worth billions!

We live in hopes, hopes that artists, writers and a poets are duly recognised  and embraced by the people if not by the Government, creativity ensures that medicine and engineering can blend with arts and literature. Aesthetics might become a norm of a certain day. 

I remember the gentle voice of an American Surgeon admonishing me in the operating rooms at Bulawayo Huspital, Zimbabwe, ‘Amitabh, today I must teach you the aesthetics of suturing an abdomen’. My suture line really looked terrible.

Who says there is no art in Medicine. 

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Comments on this Article

Comment Lets hope so
How many of us would leave the profession and suddenly jump out of this maddening queue, just to follow a belief.
Not many, Shubhaji
Thanks a lot, happy that you liked the article


07/02/2011 19:10 PM

Comment Dr. Mitra, your article is very good and thought-provoking. But honestly, do you think that art would die in an age driven entirely by technology and material forces? Personally, I don't think so. You, being a doctor, think of aesthetics. There must be and will be many more like you. I'm sure about it. Creativity will find a way!

Prof. Shubha Tiwari
07/01/2011 19:10 PM

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