In her regular column in the Times of India, Shobhaa De writes:
"Today, the 94-year-old Mumbaikar ( M.F.Husain) wants to come home. The same home he was forced to flee four years ago. He has been living in exile, tormented by the thought he may never set foot in the land of his birth again. Isn't it time we showed enough grace, courage, courtesy... just plain and simple 'tameez'... by welcoming him back to his motherland? Yes, the very same 'Bharatmata' he stands accused of having desecrated?
….the prolific artist graduated from painting film hoardings to putting India on the international map as its foremost contemporary artist. His horses galloped across the world, breaking records and he himself became the desi art world's most powerful brand.
…What did he have to gain by inviting trouble - big trouble? He has been hugely successful for decades, he doesn't need publicity stunts to sell his works. Nor is he dumb enough to offend people deliberately and not be aware of the consequences."
In my regular column in Plus Ultra, I make the following observations now:
1) If M.F.Husain says he is returning to his Bharatmata, he will pacify the Hindu fundamentalists, but will invite the provisions of the Islamic fatwa that says that reference to nation as mother is unIslamic. Hussain would do well to ponder over this fire- frying pan equation.
2) By what stretch of imagination can one describe Hussain’s art as desi art? He has developed his own individual style that has found acceptance. Good for him.
3) It did not require Hussain to put India on the international map. I distinctly remember seeing India on a world map in one of my geography lessons in the 7th standard, many decades back.
4) When his nude horses galloped across the world, there were no protests at all. Only when nude goddesses figured in his art, there were howls of protest. This distinction must be clear.
5) If my memory serves me right, Husain was not banished from the country by the Govt. He made his own assessment of the risks of staying here and chose to move to Dubai. And he is not exactly holed out in a desert there or moving around in a camel. Why should I be burdened by the guilt of keeping an old man from his humble home?
6) Husain may be hugely successful, but that doesn’t mean that he does not need to resort to publicity stunts. Any book, movie or piece of art (or blog) has to ‘provoke’ to be noticed, and authors/directors/artists constantly test the frontiers. The line between freedom of expression and its misuse is a hazy one. The artist may want an unqualified licence, while the Bajrang Dal may have zero tolerance. Only the Court can decide if that line has been crossed or not.
The simple point that needs to be made is that as an Indian citizen, Husain has a right to stay here and if there is a threat to his life, enjoy the protection of law. But if some aggrieved person follows the right legal process and brings charges of defamation, Husain has to face those charges and defend himself. He cannot seek immunity or cry foul. Nor should Shobhaa De.
Not that either of them is obliged to follow my advice.