It is unfortunate that eminent painter M.F.Husain decided to relinquish his Indian citizenship in favor of a Qatari one. Indeed, it is not a rare instance in India as every year several hundred qualified Indians relinquish Indian citizenship in order to obtain one in the U.S , Canada or other countries where they believe they and their family can have a better quality of life, better education and material prospects. Some of them go on to win Nobel prizes and then we have no problem claiming them as our own sons and daughters and even trying to share some of their glory by piggy-backing on their achievements which we have a right to because of the achiever’s Indian roots/ genes or whatever. But what makes M.F.Husain’s case different is that an artist of great eminence, someone who took Indian art to the international galleries living in India, was compelled to leave the country because he did not feel safe in this country despite the government’s offer to provide his security.
It is tough for anyone to feel free when one feels the need to be constantly protected by security guards. While most V.I.P.’ s seem to get used to it a necessary evil, Husain must have found it very stifling given his history of roaming around barefoot and his preference for spending time with ordinary people rather than the rich and famous. And in today’s time where it seems tough for people in the limelight to open their mouths (or write or paint) without offending some group or other, he might never have been able to go back to his free lifestyle ever again. He has managed to offend certain people /groups through his work even by misinterpretation or misunderstanding but there is no going back – that shall shadow him forever. He may have apologized but still he remains a valuable whipping boy for these groups to settle their political/religious scores and gain public attention.

Did Husain realize this and is that is he chose to accept the Qatari citizenship when it was offered to him – to make his home in a place where he felt safe, honoured and accepted as well as send out a strong message to India about how unvalued he felt here after all his contributions?

But what might the government have done differently that might have prevented this apart from offering him and his museums high-level security?
Publicly defended the paintings that offended certain religious sensibilities in the name of artistic freedom and dismissed all cases against him summarily? That would still not have guaranteed 100% protection against vandalism or the ‘right’ of some section or other to feel offended by his works.
There are some sections that attribute his decision as an escape from the cases against him. But his citizenship still doesn’t offer him immunity from legal proceedings of pending cases. And given his stature and the ability to engage the best lawyers to argue his case, he certainly does not need to run away from the country fearing our legal system. He is neither a petty criminal nor a terrorist.
Artistic freedom is another reason that is cited by the elitist sections. But this does not seem to be the main reason going by the country whose citizenship he has accepted. In this article on the subject Vir Sanghvi asks:
Now that he has chosen to live in Qatar, the Hindutva-wallahs will ask the obvious questions: How much freedom will he have there? Of course the Arabs will let him paint naked Hindu goddesses. But will they let him paint anything that even remotely offends Muslims? Anything that offends the royal family? Nude portraits of previous rulers of Qatar? Or even, nude portraits of Arab women?
These are crude questions. But sadly, the answers are as crude. Husain will have no artistic freedom in Qatar. He will be no more than a court painter to a medieval monarch. So has he chosen to live in a society that values the artistic freedom that he says he is denied in India? Or has he just taken the soft, very profitable, option and forgotten all about artistic freedom?

Husain is certainly aware of the limitations to artistic freedom in his new country and yet chose to accept its citizenship so maybe it is not so much about artistic freedom at all.

Perhaps it is all about feeling wanted, valued and honoured in his own homeland Is it possible that he may have felt this if he had been honored with the Bharatratna? Is it too late for it even now? Does it matter that he is no longer an Indian citizen?

While all this may not matter to the painter himself anymore now that his decision is made. Let us hope that he is able to spend the rest of his life in peace giving full expression to his creativity and genius. But for us as a nation, this is probably a good time to introspect and see how we can make this into a nation that makes its people, ordinary or eminent, feel protected and wanted here and proudly hold the single identity of being Indian.
47 Responses
  1. Rahul Says:

    I think India should try to let its people hold no identity at all if they so choose. Insistence on the singular Indian identity is not right.

  2. Hip Grandma Says:

    I too read Vir sanghvi's article in the Hindustan Times and felt it was very balanced. I, for one feel that we Indians are double dealers. True Husain is a great artist and his work has to be viewed as such. But it was also sickening to hear Mani Shankar Iyer declare that the Indian government should fall at his feet if need be and bring him back. Fatwas are declared at the drop of a hat and the likes of mani shankar remain mum and if Husain feels threatened inspite of the government's assurance and chooses to live in a less tolerant country we have to fall at his feet and invite him to get killed by Hindu fundamentalists. The bunch who call themselves public figures would do well to measure their words and exercise caution. Husain may have his own valid reason to choose Quatar over other places. why can't we respect his decision and let him be. Isn't he entitled to some peace of mind and to live in a country of his choice?

  3. Sajesh Says:

    don't know about how much artistic freedom he will get there but atleast he can spend his time there minus any insane people after his life.

  4. A-kay Says:

    I think being liberal and having artistic freedom is one thing but being insensitive is another. Why was the question of artistic freedom not asked when the ban was imposed on Satanic Verses (India is one of the few non-muslim countries where the book is still banned) or when Tasleema was moved from Calcutta to Rajasthan to where not and her visa extensions were under question or when the Dutch cartoon controversy erupted in India with the UP minister calling for the cartoonist beheading or when "The Da Vinci Code" (which was not banned in any of the Christian-majority countries) were banned in some states. I am all for artistic freedom as along as it is equal. Criticizing one religion (in this case the majority religion) is termed artistic freedom whereas the same is not applied to other religions as they offend minority sensibilities - aren't we missing something here? Trade M F Husain with a non-muslim painter and Hindu dieties with non-Hindu dieties, and M F Husain would have moved out of the country and all his works would have been banned eons ago. Such is the state of our country...

  5. Maria Says:

    just stumbled here...
    i think its very unfortunate and sad that India lost out on a gem. The person who got Indian art on the world map. It is our loss completely! I think all of us want our safety and peace of mind...and at 95 if ur buying your safety by accepting any other citizenship...he is mighty correct! I mean me, you...who doesn't want to be safe and at peace. Its sad that his own country could not guarantee his safety from a bunch of fanatics!

  6. kivina Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Gokul Vasudevamurthy Says:


    I wonder if you said anything about Taslima's fate in India when she was here. Yeah Sure! how can anyone be branded as a person with a liberal outlook if they don’t side with people like Hussein.
    I wonder if you have ever seen one of his paintings, pardon my ignorance. You on one hand complain about woman being disrespected, degrading values, education in our society etc, but on the other, it is ok for your kids and ours to look at nude Hindu goddesses, their paintings auctioned at Christie's in NYC. I wonder if your "two eyes watching you" concept applies here.
    Another thing, people may have gotten citizenships abroad but our hearts are always in India. We will always be Indians till we die.
    I have been an silent admirer of your articles. But this one is distasteful (my view only!). I agree that our culture doesn’t teach us to hate others, but we should know when enough is enough and protest nonviolently in our own way when injustice is meted out. Rani Padmini could not bear the thought of Khilji even looking at her with the evil intention of raping here and she was ready to jump into the pyre. This is my country. This is my culture.
    I am a bit disappointed. Well, it’s just my view. I know it is not important.
    I would be very interested to see him paint Mohammad and his family and see how well he will be respected in Qatar. Well all in the spirit of his great artistic aptitude of course!

  8. kivina Says:

    Usha - you've got to be kidding me!

    How will you be considered "progressive" if you dont pander to "the minorities"?

    Why is the Hindu community expected to take insult from everyone, be "broad minded" and tolerant, all while being expected to be "sensitive to the sentiments" of other communities?
    It offends me to see my Goddess of learning whom I have been taught to worship painted naked, let alone by someone who wouldnt dare paint his prophet Muhammad - naked or clothed. Does this somehow make me a "fundamentalist"? I'll tell you what's fundamentalist - issuing fatwa to someone who talks about their own religion and how women are oppressed in the name of it!

  9. kivina Says:

    Oh and ever wonder why he chose a Hindu goddess as the subject of his "art"?
    Maximum controversy = maximum attention = auction at Christie's.

    For the record, I think his paintings are crap

  10. Usha Says:

    Rahul:I am afraid i did not get your point here. What I meant by the Indian identity is not the citizenship but all this talk about who an Indian is and whether you are an Indian first or something else first.

    Hipgran:I agree that we do not need to fall at anyone's feet to be an Indian citizen and it is entirely the person's decision and choice.

    Sajesh: I do not think it was a choice based on freedom of expression. I believe that he felt misunderstood and unvalued here.

    A-Kay: the argument about artistic freedom is daft. The limit to every freedom is when it becomes offensive to someone else. I think Husain realiized it when he offered his apologies.And why should all is works be banned? Even in cases like Rushdie only the particular book is banned.
    And we seem to have this reaction to Husain because of his religion. I come from a state where we have statues for a guy who routinely insults Hindu Gods and he is revered as a great leader.

    Maria: There is only so much a government can do. The act was done and the feelings have been hurt and life can never go back to normal again for him. If he had chosen to live in india it would have to be at the price of constant scrutiny and criticism. So it is best for him to stay where he 'feels' free.

    Gokul:I was saddened by the treatment meted out to Tasleema but yes, I did not write a post on it. But I would say it was wrong to treat her the way she was treated for voicing her opinions on the way Islam treats women. Any institution that seeks to rule through fear and violence is not one to get my vote.
    I am not too much into images of gods whether clad and decorated or nude. So they do not offend me. I do not believe that my God needs me to defend him/her/it.
    But I understand if such paintings offend others.But if the artist apologizes for his act and withdraws the paintings, he should be allowed to live and carry on with his work in peace without being subjected to constant vandalism and violence.
    What would you be happy with? destroying all is work? banning him from the country? a fatwa perhaps?
    His few offensive paintings do not reduce the value of his work. He is a great painter who made a few mistakes. And he has apologized.That does not make him any less Indian or reduce the greatness of his art as manifested in his other paintings.
    We must learn to condemn the mistake but value the person and not go overboard because of emotional reasons.

    Kivina: you are entitled to be offended by his paintings. But once they have been withdrawn and he has apologized, you should have the grace to accept the apologies and move on and not prejudge him unless he repeats the offense.
    I think he is just a convenient whipping boy for all our resentment about the special treatment his religion get before the laws in our country. And the maximum controversy= maximum attention probably applies to the groups that vandalize his museums too.

  11. hmmmm.... quite thought provoking as usual.

    but this is one post where I differ from you, my friend.
    I have absolutely no problem with Hussein's depiction of our nude gods and godesses. (The Hindu religion worships a lingam for heaven's sake!) And as for culture, our temples have more erotic sculptures adorning the walls.

    But I do take offence to Hussein opting only for hindu Gods and Godesses for his nudes. Why the double standards for creativity??
    Leave alone nude, why does he not dare to put a face to Allah? or maybe a nude of Muhammed/Christ?
    Because the fanatics as well as non -fanatics in those religions globally would have torn him to pieces. I strongly believe that.

    Only in Hinduism do we take all with a pinch of salt. Which is an admirable quality. But sometimes we do need to draw a line and tell people where to get off. And this applies to a Hussein drawing nudes as well as to a Mutalik abusing pub-goers.

  12. Usha Says:

    JLT: I did not say that people do not have a right to be offended by his paintings and I do not believe any freedom gives you the right to offend. He did commit a mistake by drawing those paintings. And he has apologized, withdrawn the paintings and doesn't repeat the mistake. can we have the grace to accept the apologies and move on rather than baying for his blood?
    How does it make it better if he would paint Christ or the Prophet in the nude?
    Would those somehow right the earlier wrong?

  13. :-) am not one of those baying for his blood. I do not want him to stay out of our country. He is welcome to stay, provided he respects the sentiments of all its people as well. If he's apologised for his paintings which were found offensive, and withdrawn them as well, good for him. it was only his double standards that irritated me.
    I do however believe that that grace should apply to Taslima too, who apparently has only protrayed a portion of reality. its not even a flight of imagination/creativity.

  14. Usha Says:

    JLT: :)
    Sure Tasleema has every right to say what she wants to say and is entitled to protection from violence when she is in this country. Same with allowing Davinci code to be read and seen freely and satanic verses to be sold in the country.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    He is 95. Perhaps he thought he had had enough.

    I liked what you said - we really should take a look at what an intolerant, violent society we are becoming. Anybody can make us hate with absolute ease - we support anyone who creates a reason for us to feel like victims.

    This is really sad...
    Yesterday we had dinner with a couple who had a beautiful M F Hussain on their wall, and a discussion started and everybody seemed very clear that M F Hussain was being victimised... then who is supporting those who terrorised him?

  16. Gokul Vasudevmurthy Says:

    Though I would not want to continue to indulge in tarka and keep you form writing your next article, I think I would like to say a few words.
    It is true.. our gods don’t need anyone to defend them, but please remember faith is greater than god himself. Faith is more important in life. Without faith there is no good or bad, right or wrong. We would all be charvakas. Many of us in our country are simple people, not all of us are highly evolved Darwin’s darlings with advanced questioning skills and neither did we learn the Socratic techniques in schools or grad schools. Pictures are powerful, it means something to us. I am sure you have heard of Swami Vivekananda's true story about the king who criticized swamiji’s beliefs including idol/image worship, but would dare not spit on his dead father photograph when swamiji asked him to.
    Gandhiji uttered ‘hey raam’, instead of a curse or a painful scream when he was assassinated. Gandhiji believed in the Rama’s virtue more than Rama himself. That is faith. MFH hurt our faith, it is that simple. No need to glorify him. He is irresponsible and disrespectful. He is a hypocrite.

    I would really respect MFH if he said anything about the atrocities and monstrosities committed by Islamic fundamentalists around the world. Did he come to the rescue of his fellow human being Tasleema? Or Salman Rushdie Or the Danish cartoonist? Or at least, have the courtesy to even make a statement appealing to fundamentalist muslims to abjure violence and bring in reforms in his own community, when a country that he so loves, is bleeding to death every day?

    It took several protests, court cases and death threats for him to realize his mistake and to issue an apology.
    Ofcourse I personally think death threats and violence is preposterous.
    About art, if MFH is an artist, so is Bal Thackeray. One is a painter the other is a great orator (evil or not thats a different question). So is laloo to be precise, he is a great con-artist, the only difference is laloo converted all the fodder into currency. So were the couple you saw in the market the other day. They put on a great disappearing act (:)). Don’t you think so?
    It’s so true that with great power or talent comes great responsibility, especially when you control something as powerful as a medium of expression, may it just be speech or the pen or the brush, which affects millions in one way or the other. Here in the US there are people who claim and argue that pornography is a form of art. So would we be broad enough to allow our kids to appreciate porn? After all it is just human anatomy and basic human instinct.
    Anyway, we can go on and on but I have lost interest. I however eagerly await your next informative article.

  17. A-kay Says:

    I come from the same state too. I don't think all of M F Husain's work is banned in India too - agree that there are lot of court cases against him but that is a different issue. I am not offended by the images, but I am offended that this treatment is targeted at one religion - I would not care about it if Husain had been fair and treated all religions equally, which he didn't. What is right for the goose should be right for the gander is my 2 cents.

  18. Usha Says:

    IHM:There is intolerance on one side and people who are tolerant are portrayed as indifferent. I think while we are critical of the intolerance and narrow prescriptions of other religions we are slowly trying to become like them too. What an irony!

    Gokul: I completely understand why people found his paintings to be offensive. It is just that I cannot pretend to be offended by them . That is just me. And I was only responding to your earlier statement:
    You on one hand complain about woman being disrespected, degrading values, education in our society etc, but on the other, it is ok for your kids and ours to look at nude Hindu goddesses, their paintings auctioned at Christie's in NYC. I wonder if your "two eyes watching you" concept applies here.
    And I am not willing to defend his act on the principle of artistic freedom either. But I also believe he genuinely did not intend to insult Hinduism - he just went a bit too far with his brush.
    Yes he apologised only after wide spread protests. That is again because he did not intend to insult anyone and only when people protested did he realise that he had made a mistake.
    This is a country where we don't even punish a guy like Kasab without due process of law.
    When did we become a mob that takes law into its own hands and attack people without giving them the right to defend himself? And is that how, we survived as a great civilisation for the longest period in history?
    While being resentful of "them' let us not become like them too. Our strength lies in our being the way we are.
    Oh as for the porn thing, i'd have no problem in my son accessing it at the right age. but when he is a kid and his two little eyes are watching me I'd do everything to let him know what is right and what is wrong so when he sees Porn he'd certainly know it is trash. I hope I have because my son is 28 and he has no interest in porn.
    Thanks for taking the time to have a good discussion here. I appreciate your views.

    A-Kay: I understand what you are saying but I am unable to fathom why he did not use nudes for figures of other religions. Other artists justify it in the context of these paintings. And most artists do not view nude as demeaning or insulting. They glorify nudity.
    But I can see how it can be offensive to a layman.
    My point was not to defend those specific paintings. My point is that we had no right to treat him the way we did. What are courts and law for if everyone can take law into their hands? it can work both ways you know.

  19. Raj Says:

    Usha : I agree that vandalism should not be condoned whatever may be the provocation. But I don't think Husain stayed away from India because he feared vandalism. I believe that the Govt had also promised him sufficient protection if he chose to come back.

    He left the country because he did not want to face the multiple law suits in courts. As much as he wants to enjoy artistic freedom, other citizens may want to exercise their right to take him to Court, if they feel he has offended their sensibilities in any way. This is a perfectly legal option and remedy open to citizens in a civilised society and one can't accuse them of hounding or persecuting an artist or acting in a petty fashion. In a democracy, the Govt can protect him from vandals, but they can't indemnify him from the legal process.

    If Husain, either because of his age or because he doesn't have the stomach to defend himself or he doesn't believe in the Indian judicial sytem, wants to leave the country and not come back, then that's his decision. From the comfort of his Qatar mansion, if he wants to sob how he has been wronged by Indians, that's good melodramatic stuff that would fetch him more brownie points. I don't think we need to woo him back with a Bharat Ratna. And, I don't think we should feel collectively guilty of treating an artist badly.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Come on .. he is an artist and he will paint what inspires him. I am sure all of us will agree that Hindu Gods and images lend themselves to so much interpretation. May be Hussein is yet to be inspired by the Cross or Prophet Mohammed in a creative manner to paint them differently. One can't dictate creativity I suppose

  21. Vijay Says:

    Usha, I wonder if its ok to compare other people who leave India (to work and eventually citizenship) to M.F Hussain...the others were looking for better opportunities..Hussain was running away from controversies..

    I still dont know all and sundry are such a big deal out of this..he can go anywhere.. Qatar or Timbuctoo..personally doesnt make any difference

  22. Usha Says:

    Raj: I can fully understand that anyone can get offended by him and find a reason to sue him. I suppose he had to choose between completing his dream projects or running between cities to face charges in every court in the country. And at 95,he made the most sensible choice.
    As usual when he is honored somewhere else for his contribution to art we can proudly talk of his INDIAN roots.

    Anon: I don't know enough about his work to justify or condemn his act in painting those figures. But you are right, obviously no one seems to have been offended by the artists who conceived of the lovable images of Ganesh and Hanuman nor has anyone been offended by the worship of the image of the Lingam.

    Vijay: Come on. The legal battles would have a nuisance distracting him from his projects but he did not have to run away from them - not in the sense of escaping. In any case the cases still stand and will have to go through their course. At best he was probably hoping to avoid future cases.
    It seems he was also going for better opportunities as he expressed in his interview with burkha Dutt that an NRI status would give him the tax benefits for the sponsorship money for his projects.

  23. S.V. Says:

    @Gokul V.
    "I would really respect MFH if he said anything about the atrocities and monstrosities committed by Islamic fundamentalists around the world."

    So it finally comes down to this, doesn't it? Strangely, every muslim always needs to "prove" his "Indian" credentials, as does every other who doesn't fit in the majority. Bet that one doesn't accept the apologies ever and conveniently becomes a punching bag for fundamentalists. I haven't ever heard of these so-called fundamentalists apologising for their actions ever! And for me, there is no distinction between religion and faith.
    Besides, if he is disrespectful and blah, so are those waving the fundamentalist banners and crying hoarse. But then would we bother if they are our own - sometimes Hindu, sometimes Christian,sometimes we dare to raise our voices if they are our own? If we do indeed, we fall between two broad categories as kivina pointed out - Minority pandering or weak majority, isn't it?

    Its fashionable these days to follow the yardstick argument that Hindus are weak. I don't think so...(had an unforgettable experience of Mumbai riots when I was a kid). I honestly feel most don't care two hoots about all these so-called "hurting of sentiments". They are always played up by vested political interests and Indians always fall for that. Most Christians don't give a damn about Da Vinci, neither do most Hindus bother about MFH's paintings nor do most Muslims care abt Afzalkhan in their everyday lives.

    Anyway going by the above arguments though, I wonder how those Khajuraho temples/ Konark temples are not razed to the ground yet. Compromising positions in a temple, Blasphemous, no? I think each faith evolves thru its good and bad. No faith is perfect. We all need to move on beyond trivial affairs. If MFH has apologised it shows his better side. yet to see the better side of the others...

  24. S.V. Says:

    And kudos to you, Usha for being a better and balanced voice among the clutter we get on biased TV channels and equally biased fundamentalists.

  25. Raj Says:

    Usha, you have replied to one of the commenters that “ I also believe he genuinely did not intend to insult Hinduism - he just went a bit too far with his brush. Yes he apologised only after wide spread protests. That is again because he did not intend to insult anyone and only when people protested did he realise that he had made a mistake. “

    I am afraid you are being far too charitable here. It is not as if the poor, innocent artist had, on some sudden creative impulse, unknowingly painted a solitary picture of a nude goddess. He is a serial offender- he had painted an entire series depicting Hindu gods/goddesses in a manner calculated to provoke and with a clear intention to cash in on the resulting controversy. (I can mail you the series, on request) The man has not had such creative urges when dealing with men, women and gods of any other religion. The pattern is all too obvious in his series of paintings and it would be utterly naïve to suppose that he did not intend to insult or did not realise he was making a mistake. Where he did not realise he was making a mistake was in presuming that the opposition would simmer down soon. To expect to be let off lightly after an apology is a bit too much. As if it is such a magnanimous gesture on his part.

    Not being a religious person and not being a card-carrying believer in Hindu mythology, I am not offended by his paintings, but I am not at all surprised that many people find them revolting. I would certainly not give them the right to attack him personally or vandalise his paintings, but I would most definitely support their right to take him to Court.

    The stupidest argument one can come up with is that the Khajuraho temple has engravings that are far more vulgar in their depiction of Hindu women.And this is enough justification for Husain to use his brush to produce similar stuff. Surely, our sensibilities have evolved in the centuries since Khajuraho?

  26. Usha Says:

    Stephenson Viegas: Thanks for your insights.

    Raj:Please send me a copy of the series.
    But I still do not understand the intention to cash in after the controversy. He could not have sold them in India. And I wonder if foreign art lovers really care about Hindu gods in the nude unless the painting had artistic merit otherwise.
    To me he comes across as an eccentric, crack-potish artist with a good heart. But my opinion is only based on what I have read about him.

  27. Unknown Says:

    Usha - An artist has a wide range of liberties but there is a fine line which if crossed is tantamount to playing with fire . As someone pointed out the reason behind his not returning to India could be the lawsuits .
    I am not overtly religious , I appreciate art , coming from a family of well known artists and I know it is fashionable to decry the excesses of the moral police where art especially is concerned , but I still have my reservations about the series which Husain painted .If he chose to accept the citizenship it was his option .
    The link you sought is here

  28. A-kay Says:

    My point is not whether nude is glorifying or demeaning - all I care about is be fair and equal. When one is purposefully not, that is when it leads to suspicion about his intentions, which happened in the case of M F Husain. I agree with you that law has to take its course - there were innumerable protests but no one barred him from entering or living in India. It was upto the Govt to give him enough protection and if he was not satisfied with that, then it is his call. That said, I don't care two hoots whether he has given up Indian citizenship or not or whether he is on a self-imposed exile from India or not, and don't understand why media made such a big deal out of this...

  29. Sunitha Says:

    MF Hussain is free to choose to live in any country he likes. As far as I am concerned he wasn't treated any differently than what ordinary Indians go through in every day life. After all didn't the vandalist drive out the north Indians from mumbai and deny them their livelihood, wasn't Kushboo made to apologise for her innocous comments on premarital sex ... sharuk khan ... aamir khan ...well I can list tons of such incidents that we face here on a everyday basis. Some people have it in them to fight it out and some people choose other options out of furstration which is their right. I really wonder how valued and wanted he will be in his new country if he chooses to excerise artistic freedom that may be considered offensive by the people of his new country.

  30. S.V. Says:


    "The stupidest argument one can come up with is that the Khajuraho temple has engravings that are far more vulgar in their depiction of Hindu women.And this is enough justification for Husain to use his brush to produce similar stuff. Surely, our sensibilities have evolved in the centuries since Khajuraho?"

    Im only wondering why do we have double standards. Okay, my argument may sound stupid, but the point of Khajuraho was more of a tongue-in-cheek response to the comments from some of these apparent self proclaimed supporters/protectors of our "culture".

    Anyway, I totally endorse your views on legal actions against MFM in case it did "offend" people. Violence or defacement of paintings was certainly not the answer.And besides, as a nation, we need to grow up and move on from such controversies. I sincerely believe things like riots in a nation are a bigger blot on the identity of an Indian than any Da Vinci scandal/nude painting. But then, who cares...

  31. bala rao Says:

    painting goddess saraswathi in the nude and painting our mothers in the nude is the same. artists are eccentric but someone's eccentricity should not be an excuse to offend sensibilities of a nation. one thing is very clear: he has deliberately offended the faith, religion and social sensibilities of a nation by painting some of their most exalted goddesses in the nude. if this were to happen in any arab country, by now he would have been long dead.

    Usha, let some hindu artist paint a picture of prophet mohammed (nude or otherwise); u will see the voice of the so called religious minority in india echo in the parliament; the artist's consequent arrest; fatwa issued against him by the mullas of all jumma masjids; apologies by the PM, Ruling party, President, etc to the "minority community"; also an international fatwa issued against him by the mullas of iran, saudi.. riots allover india.. and it goes on...

    and u just have to think for a few moments to imagine the reaction of the "english media" :-) they would castrate him on tv in order to show their secular credentials.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    If I may, let me put a different spin on this controversy: like Greek mythology, Hindu religion is also a lot of mythology, esp wrt to its various Gods. Greek gods, as you know, have been painted/ sculptured in many forms over the years, and the Greek haven't done much about it. Why you ask? Simple, Greek mythology is no relevant in their lives, while Hinduism lives on.

    But it is pertinent to ask should Hindus also evolve to a version of Hinduism which is comfortable with modernity: if we could simply 'extract' Hindu-based philosophies from its myriads of sources, i.e including those based on mythology as well as more factual interpretations (Thirukkural comes to mind of course), we'd actually make a quantum leap to becoming a people who are prepared for the modernity that awaits, at least from where I sit: a modernity that relies less on dogma, ritualistic practices, and instead goes to a 'purist', almost 'Buddhist' approach to life and religion.
    Imagine for a second, if the Hindu 'educated' diaspora worldwide were to make this seemingly impossible transition, we'd simply compare MF Husain to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, and tell ourselves, it does not mean anything to us, it doesn't hurt us, etc as our religion, our deep beliefs, our way of life, our application of religion in everyday behaviour is rooted in beliefs which are entirely purist: those relating to the purpose of the Atman and nothing else!

    Then, and imho, only then, could we actually progress psychologically to be a diaspora who can compete with the Chinese race, as they are, whether we like it or not, the economic/social/inspired success that they are increasingly setting the standard for these days, at least in Asia.

    I sincerely feel the educated among this truly elite blogger and her faithful followers like you must lead, show leadership in:
    - not getting emotional about MF Husain's and the likes' doings, as they are nothing more than interpretations of mythological gods, while the basic tenets of Hinduism are unaffected;
    - actively discourage the increasingly blind, ritualistic behaviours of the less educated among us, focusing on offerings to various gods in exchange for boons, relief from afflications, etc;
    - seek out the higher level values of Hinduism, discard the rituals, and place religion in its rightful place in your everyday lives, so that in effect, you have embraced modernity deep inside your souls, while placing this higher level Hindu philosophy in its inner core;
    - accept the tremendous sapping of the soul's energy that ritualistic practices sucks in, as a result of, inter alia, our inherent acceptance of fatalism, caste-rooted traditions and constraints and inability of a person to be entirely agile in body, spirit and soul to embrace the many opportunities offered by the globalised economy, which in turn makes it mandatory that one is adaptive, flexible and constantly evolving.
    Long note no doubt, but I look around, and where I live, I see the discipline, confidence and adaptability of the Chinese and get positively depressed at the comparative lack of energy of the Indian diaspora, esp wrt the amount of time and effort they spend on 'navel-gazing', instead of improving themselves to face modernity with full vigour, confidence and energy.

  33. Parvathi Says:

    Post is too good. At 95 in exile? What a shame! Most of the comments show that over years we have learned to be fundamentalists too. Artistic freedom should not be mixed up religious sentiments.All of us get embarrassed for Talisma episode and Danish cartoonist's plight,but do we like to join the bandwagon? It is very sad if any form of art is required to be exhibited with police cordon and any artist be escorted by police in our country.Seemingly we are sliding down. Thanks to the bigot think tank. They are able to make headway!

  34. Apparently it is good for the old hypocrite and sexual pervert to keep away from India .Those who under the licence of artistic freedom lend suipport to his ghastly bizarre paintings of revered goddesses copulating with animals are also no less sexual perverts and no less hypocrites.It is heartening at least a segment of people in India have some sense of decency who succeeded in chasing him out of this land .

  35. Apparently it is good for the old hypocrite and sexual pervert to keep away from India .Those who under the licence of artistic freedom lend suipport to his ghastly bizarre paintings of revered goddesses copulating with animals are also no less sexual perverts and no less hypocrites.It is heartening at least a segment of people in India have some sense of decency who succeeded in chasing him out of this land .

  36. maami Says:

    In recent decades paintings like 'Piss Christ' by Serrano where he placed a plastic crucifix with Christ in a transparent box of his urine;a depiction of Jesus as gay and I think one of Jesus as a black woman in the nude -I kinda liked it ;)- presiding over the last supper caused unrest in the West.In Australia where the population is predominantly WASP, art works of Osama Bin Laden in the form of Christ, Virgin Mary in a burqa caused deep offense, stirred debate, and some won prestigious prizesdespite objections!

    The true test of art is its timeless appeal. Time and history will decide the worth of such artworks- our current objection or support to Hussain or other artists notwithstanding.

    Despite what the mad mullahs said, his many pecadallios with celebrity women, Rushdie's Satanic Verses remains a powerful satire on faith. Rushdie has had his answer even after deportment, fatwa etc.

    The verdict on Hussain's worth will have to wait.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    let that guy be... no point reading into situations where they dont exist..

  38. S! Says:

    I think it is a little complicated like you have cited in the various angles you bring in.

    Some of these are really symbolic issues - if you take nationalism out, is it very different from changing jobs & retaining your friends in the last company? And how much a company will bend to accommodate one person, albeit great, but apparently not a popular person as a whole.

  39. Usha Says:

    Eve'slungs, A-Kay: I hear what you are saying.

    Sunitha: No he wasn't treated any differently from others. But the question is: do these instances point out that we seem to be becoming over-sensitive of late and more often it seems to be as a reaction to something that was done by the 'other'.

    Bala Rao: True and sad isn't it?

    Anon: This backlash by the Hindus and reduced level of tolerance to anyone trying to be critical or disrespectful to their religious practices is the result of centuries of tolerance and finally ending up in a situation where the 'minorities' are treated with kid-gloves and given special priveleges by the government. There is a feeling of being let down and being taken for granted which has led to some individuals and groups taking law into their own hands against any perceived insult to their religion particularly when the source is from another religion. There is always a tendency to cling together and become protective of your roots when you feel threatened from outside. So the kind of modernisation of religion cannot happen until there is a general climate of mutual respect and trust among the different communities in this country.
    Unfortunately there are extremist elements on both sides who do not want this to happen. So when Husain Paints those images or Tasleema questions certain practices in her religion, they become opportunities for these elements to score over the other. In Husain's case he seems to have gone a bit too far that he has hurt people who normally take a moderate view of things with the result that most people of his own country have rejected him despite all his international fame.

    Parvathy: It is sad that things have come to such a pass in this country and Husain's instance is just a symptom. The malaise runs deeper and we probably need to introspect and see how we can end this vicious cycle.

    Gour: While I am not in agreement with the adjectives you have used to describe the man, I agree it is good for him to stay out.

    Maami:These offensive paintings are a very miniscule part of his body of work and yet as of today he is judged as a person only for these. When the man is gone and these hurts are forgotten, perhaps that is when he may again be considered for his art.

    Anon: mmm.

    S!:Not too different. But the thing is we still attach a lot of emotional significance to issues like family, nation etc. So giving up some of these SEEMS larger than just changing jobs.
    In the case of most Indians who acquire a U.S. passport or canadian Passport it is like what you have said. Practical considerations while being 100% Indian emotionally. But considering the circumstances and the manner things happened with MF, it seemed like there were larger emotional issues involved.
    For all you know it might have been as simple as avoiding tax by becoming a NRI or acquiring a different citizenship.

  40. OneWish Says:

    "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION" is much cliched word these days! Freedom of expression at what cost?Has anybody wondered over that?Has any free intellectual tought where to draw the line?When you are living in a society,its commonsense that you be mindful of others' feelings,way of living & enable everyone to live in harmony.Why can't MFH draw other paintings of his daugher,mohd.'s daughter,ghaulib nude?Why only India,our godesses & gods?Can he draw mhmd naked? Can he dare?If he can I Esteem him as an artist of courage!!! He is a paranormal, psycho man,which media has hyped as great artist.How sane is it a common man follows like a donkey?

    Feel ashamed that things of matter of respect for us are demeaned,don't glorify the downtrodden.

    Have some dignity for yourself.

  41. It is not we who didn't let him fit in.

    It was he himself who didn't fit in with India.

    India is a nation built of its people, by its people and for its people. It means that it lies on all of us to uphold the values on which we decided to build India. Being secular is the duty of each of us- which in a country so diverse means tolerance and flexibility. It means that if my wearing shorts to a Gurudwara would offend people, I will not do that. It is a balance of tolerance and flexibility.

    Hussein wasn't that. And so, he was never truly Indian by the definition that we all are.

    I say, Good Riddance!!!

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. Usha : There are a few more paintings which are offensive. pls see this link.
    Please note his paintings of the Hindu Goddesses juxtaposed with his other paintings. Then judge for yourself whether it is a case of just getting carried away a bit with the brush or it is more than that.

  44. Usha Says:

    Onewish, entrepreneur, candid chitchats:
    Thanks for the comment.

  45. Badri Says:

    Usha! a well presented post but imo lacks an all round perspective.

    Actress Khushboo made just a remark on pre-marital sex in an interview and she was harassed to no end by those who abuse the legal machinery. Not only did she handle it but she continued to reside in the country instead of taking the easy way of 'self exile'.

    MFH could have chosen to fight the legal battles legally but instead chose to hide behind artistic freedom and also left the country.

    Will write a detailed response soon.


  46. Vishnu Says:

    Hi Usha,

    I've been a silent follower of your blog for quite sometime. I find some of them boring while rest of them excellently narrated.

    This post is an intriguing post in itself. I made sure I don't miss reading any of the comments posted. I should say you've got a good list of followers.

    Personally, I'm a fanatic patriot! Whenever someone says something against my country, I confront them right there with a tight answer. Coming to Mr. MFH, good that he is a blessed artist, if he takes pride in being a citizen of India; he would not have created this painting (

    He draws the nude paintings of Hindu deities in 1970 and I salute his guts for bringing out his "Nude Bharat maata" painting in 2000. So, is this what you call as love for your country? I thought love for a nation could be expressed just like I do.

    As most of them said, we(Indians) are very liberal on certain notes. Look at the fate of the Danish Cartoonist! (I don't have a better example to quote as no one would have ever depicted their homeland as a nude woman). This is something which is incorrigible.

    As you quoted, he has his freedom of expression even now. Hope you can use it for many more years without any kind of hindrances. If one feels that India has lot a great artist, they should also feel that Mr. MFH has lost the very valuable Indian citizenship and a patriotic admirer of his paintings (ME).

  47. First time on your blog....Liked your post I read the Vir sanghvi article and found it quite appealing and thought provoking.