This interview of Hussain, by Shoma Chaudhury  from Tehelka Magazine, is dedicated to all those who claim MF Hussain hates Hinduism!


In this interview the artist MF Husain displays his profound understanding of Indian culture and civilization and pities the ignorance of those who have forced him out of his homeland. Read more…


‘In Hindu culture, nudity is a metaphor for purity’,   Maqbool Fida Husain tells Shoma Chaudhury why his faith in India’s secular and tolerant traditions remains undiminished


Chaudhury: Husain Saheb, what do you feel about the fundamentalist attacks against you?


Husain:  I’m not really perturbed by all this. India is a democracy, everyone is entitled to their views. I only wish people would air their views  through debate rather than violence. The media comes to me looking — almost hoping — for strong statements, but I am actually very optimistic about India. I  see this as just a moment in time.  For 5,000 years, our work has been going on with such force, this is just a minor hiccough. I am certain  the younger generation will get fed  up of the fundamentalist, conservative  mood in the country and

change things. I didn’t want to leave my home. At the same time, it’s not even as if I want the conservative element to be pushed out of society. We are all part of a large  family and when a child breaks something at home, you don’t  throw him out, you try and explain   things to him. Yeh aapas ka  mamla hai. (This is a family matter.).     Those opposed to my art just do not understand it. Or have  never seen it.


Chaudhury:  Why don’t you come back to India and take on the fight?


Husain:  As things stand, I cannot come back. No one has exiled me; I came away myself because I am an old

man and vulnerable to physical danger. It’s not just the cases. If I came back, given the mood they have created, someone could just push or assault me on the street, and I would not be able to defend myself. The only way I can come back to India, perhaps, is if the BJP comes to   power at the Centre. Or, may be Mayawati. This government has  no spine.  Their hands are tied. They think if they speak out or take action, they will be accused of appeasement. The irony is, out of   power, the BJP uses issues like this to fan its vote bank. In  power, they would probably control  their extreme brigades to  look respectable and secular! (laughs) These are the ironies  of India. Actually, it is for the courts to sort this out. The allegation that my work is obscene or hurts religious sentiment can never stand merit in a court. Perhaps, if someone filed a counter public interest litigation…  It is not my place to do so.



Chaudhury:  Why did you apologize for  your art? You know more  about Hindu iconography and   the shastras than the goons  who deface your work.


Husain:  Never. I have never apologized   for my art. I stand by it totally.   What I said was that I have   painted my canvases — including   those of gods and goddesses— with deep love and conviction, and in celebration. If in  doing that, I have hurt anyone’s  feelings, I am sorry. That is all. I  do not love art less, I love humanity  more. India is a completely  unique country. Liberal.   Diverse. There is nothing like it  in the world. This mood in the

country is just a historical  process. For me, India means a   celebration of life. You cannot   find that same quality anywhere  in the world.


Chaudhury: Could you talk about how your  exposure and love for Hindu  iconography and culture  began.


Husain:  As a child, in Pandharpur, and later, Indore, I was enchanted by the Ram Lila. My friend, Mankeshwar, and I were always acting it out. The Ramayana is  such a rich, powerful story, as Dr  Rajagopalachari says, its  myth has become a reality. But I really began to study spiritual   texts when I was 19. Because  of what I had been through,  because I lost my mother, because I was sent away, I used to  have terrible nightmares when  I was about 14 or 15. All of this stopped when I was 19. I had a guru called Mohammad Ishaq— I studied the holy texts with him for two years. I also   read and discussed the Gita and Upanishads and Puranas with Mankeshwar, who had become an ascetic by then. After he  left for the Himalayas, I carried on studying for years afterwards. All this made me  completely calm. I have never  had dreams or nightmares ever again.  Later, in Hyderabad, in 1968,  Dr Ram Manohar Lohia suggested I paint the Ramayana. I  was completely broke, but I   painted 150 canvases over eight  years. I read both the Valmiki  and Tulsidas Ramayana (the  first is much more sensual) and  invited priests from Benaras to   clarify and discuss the nuances with me. When I was doing this, some conservative Muslims told me, why don’t you paint on Islamic   themes? I said, does Islam have the same tolerance? If you  get even the calligraphy wrong,  they can tear down a screen.  I’ve painted hundreds of  Ganeshas in my lifetime — it is   such a delightful form. I always paint a Ganesha before I begin on any large work. I also love the iconography of Shiva. The Nataraj — one of the most complex forms in the world — has  evolved over thousands of years and, almost like an Einstein equation, it is the result of deep philosophical and mathematical  calculations about the nature of  the cosmos and physical reality.


When my daughter, Raeesa wanted to get married, she did not want any ceremonies, so I drew a card  announcing her marriage and sent it to relatives   across the world. On the card, I  had painted Parvati sitting on Shiva’s thigh, with his hand on  her breast — the first marriage in the cosmos. Nudity, in Hindu  culture, is a metaphor for purity.


Would I insult that which I feel so close to?  I come from the Suleimani community, a sub-sect of the  Shias, and we have many affinities  with Hindus, including the  idea of reincarnation. As cultures, it is Judaism and Christianity that are emotionally more  distant. But it is impossible to discuss all this with those who  oppose me. Talk to them about Khajuraho, they will tell you its   sculpture was built to encourage population growth and has outgrown  its utility! (laughs) It is people in the villages who understand   the sensual, living, evolving nature of Hindu gods.  They just put orange paint on a rock, and it comes to stand for Hanuman.


Chaudhury:  In what terms would you like your paintings to be spoken of and remembered?


Husain:  I never wanted to be clever, esoteric, abstract. I wanted to make simple statements. I wanted my

 canvases to have a story. I wanted my art to talk to people.  In 1948, I exhibited my work publicly for the first time in the   Bombay Arts Society show. I  had already been painting and  practicing for years. Now in those paintings, I took the classical   images of the Gupta bronzes — the tribhanga form; the sensuous and erotic colours of Pahari paintings — its deep maroons, blacks, haldi; and the   nine rasas. I wanted my format

to be classical, yet retain the innocence of the folk. Souza came and asked me excitedly, from where have you got this? I didn’t tell him, I said, you go search it. This is what lies at the  heart of the artistic enterprise.


It is in picking from what has gone before. In India, there  have been so many high periods — Tanjore, Chola, Gupta…      Centuries of seeing lie behind   that. You cannot reinvent the wheel — your individuality,   your creative eye lies in what   you pick. The other thing is to find one’s own rhythm and calculation:   Where exactly do you   place a line on an empty canvas? Where exactly do you    place the dot? How much yellow should I use, how much red. If I use 1 mm of red, should  the blue be a half millimeter or more? An artist’s voice lies in this calculation, this maths.   To find your style and language takes 60-70 years of  continuous work.



Chaudhury: Which among your paintings do you consider the most significant, your equivalent of  Picasso’s Guernica?


Husain:  ‘Between the Spider and the   Lamp’ (1956). I feel happy  with the structure of that  grouping — there is a kind of   mystery about what the five   women are talking about. Stories   perhaps even unknown to

themselves. There is something  in the precarious way the   woman is holding the spider on  a delicate thread. A fear. I rarely  draw eyes, I don’t want to use  eyes because to give someone  eyes is to define and identify   the person. I prefer to make  the body expressive. To understand  hand expression, I had  observed Rodin’s sculptures — ‘Men of Calais’. To that I brought a knowledge of classical   mudras.


So much is made of culture  and tradition in India, yet 60  years after Independence, art   students are still made to study   the body from Greek art. Dr.  Kumaraswamy does not even  find mention. In colleges, you  learn about Shakespeare and  Keats, Kalidas does not find   mention. This is why there is no pehchan in India, no recognition of what is Indian. Things  are so farcical that years ago when the Benaras Hindu University honored Subbulakshmi, JRD Tata, Mother Teresa  and me, we were given red caps and cloaks! (laughs)


This was the seat of Hindu learning! The custodian of  Bharatiya sanskriti!  Is there anything that you

find obscene in the world?   Bad behaviour. That is all.


(Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 4, Dated Feb 02, 2008)

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