Yes, the Picasso of India, the sensual artist M F Husain has decided to go ahead and join his inspirations Durga and Saraswati in the far-away kingdom… and the Bajrang Dal as well as the VHP can do nothing about it. He is going to chill up there with all the Gods and Goddesses, and I’m sure they’ll all be queuing up to get themselves painted in the colours and forms that this master decides.

The Wikipedia mentions: ‘Maqbool Fida Husain, (born September 17, 1915, Pandharpur, India – died June 9,2011, London, United Kingdom ) popularly known as MF, was an artist of Indian origin. Maqbool Fida Husain, the artist who earned fame and controversy over his paintings, died in a London hospital at 2.30 am on Thursday, according to reports from UK. He was 95.’

Paintings or captions: what attracted attacks?


Husain’s Saraswati


Sometimes when I look up I see clouds forming shapes that make me give them captions. There are always the inevitable slinking cats, growling dogs, huge ships, and blazing guns… but once in a while there will be a formation that looks like the map of India. Within seconds this begins to look like a grizzly bear about to give you a breath-sucking hug! Now if I photograph this particular cloud and caption it ‘India – the bear that terrorizes’, would I be inviting attacks from lovers of Bharat Mata? Fact is, that the bear that actually terrorized the world originated from the American shores! My point here is that had Husain given his painting of a nude Saraswati a different caption, would it still have attracted attacks from the Bajrang Dal? Not that I would’ve ever wanted Husain to actually do this… I’ve had a print of his Saraswati on my pin board in my room for years now – and it is indeed an inspiring painting.

Today, when this great artist is no more and the controversies too are well in the past, I thought people would’ve matured. But no, I just culled a few tweets from the online world and some people are just not willing to learn. Just reading these tweets makes me say: ‘Have you ever tried to draw a single line on a piece of paper? Are you an artist? If no, you do not have the right to judge art… no, you cannot judge even caption.’

@viveksonkhla:’Rest In Peace Mr. #MFHussain… Feel free to paint 72 virgins sans clothing. #fb’
@KiranKS: ‘Just wondering If #mfhussain had painted Sonia Gandhi, the way he painted Hindu goddesses, wld we have seen the same ‘secular’ tweets?’
@Abhinayverma: ‘RIP #MFHussain. But no sympathies. Would hv respected him if he had the guts to express his art by painting Prophet and not Hindu deities.’
@AjoyChatterjee: ‘Everytime I saw #mfhussain piece where Siva & Parvati are nude while the Bull’s peni$ points toward Parvati,I wished,May the perv’s soul RIP’

I would also tell them that there is nothing political in his paintings. They’re all done because he was brought up looking at the wonderful ancient sculptures and paintings that are a reality in our country.

Husain had just as much fun with his brushes and colours as he had with controversies. Some of the paintings that he had done in the seventies suddenly created whirlwinds of controversies for him in 1996 and he ended up being branded ‘anti-hindu’… rather sad, because this compelled him to embrace a self-imposed exile from 2006. Last year we all heard of him being offered the citizenship of Qatar, which he accepted. Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine, published a few of his ‘nude Hindu deities’ in an article ‘M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher’. Eight criminal complaints were filed against Husain. Though these complaints were later dismissed in 2004, the ripples of unrest against his works survived. 1998 found Bajrang Dal attacking his house and vandalising artworks. Shiv Sena endorsed this attack. However, despite the attacks and the controversies, Husain continued to paint his horses, madhuri, and even Vidya…

Salil Tripathi asks a few pertinent questions in his blog:

  • ‘Did India’s robust democracy guarantee Husain’s freedom of expression?’
  • ‘Did India protect a vulnerable, fragile, nonagenarian artist, who wanted to live in peace and paint?’
  • ‘Did the Indian system protect him when Hindu nationalists attacked an art gallery in Ahmedabad, filed hundreds of cases against him, forced a foreign bank to withdraw credit cards displaying his art and defaced his paintings, and when a cartoonist-turned-politician threatened him?’

Irrespective of the sequence of events that made Husain leave the Indian shores and reach out to Qatar, the government now needs to do soul-searching and take the right action. They must give Husain the respect that he always deserved.

The online community isn’t all full of unthinking louts with a zero art sensibility quotient though. There are tweets that try to counter the socially perverse verbosity:

@skeeedamnbee: ‘Dear FauxHindutva activists, will you now stop vandalising #MFHussain’s art? Please turn your attn to Khajuraho (cont)’
@matangy: ‘The country with the largest population, and the second largest AIDS rate, could not accept that Goddesses have a female body. #MFHussain’
@suhelseth: ‘When religion interferes with creativity, you make fugitives of free minds. This is not the India Tagore envisaged. Not the India we want.’

The twitter autopsy

The twits among the twitterati and those who have something meaningful to express, there exists a treasure of Husain analysis. There is this guy who calles himself doctoratlarge who says it all: ‘Best obituary I could think of for #mfhussain – he lived by his heart and died of it.’ Yes indeed, no wonder there was a time when he was known more as Madhuri Fida rather than Maqbool Fida, which was quite justified considering the number of canvases he devoted to her.

Shantanu Maheshwari ‘could never understand him or his art’ because maybe she ‘couldn’t understand art’ but yet finds him ‘over-rated.’ Shiv Aroor also tweets in a similar vein: ‘An honest obit for #MFHussain would say: “Overrated, overpaid, lusty, publicity-hungry, fake-eccentric Indian painter.” R.I.P.’ There are those who write RIP as ‘Rest in paint’ which doesn’t really sound as bad as it was probably intended to be.

I love what @manashsarma tweets: ‘RIP #MFHussain. Your HORSES will stay running… n ur Muse ever smiling.’ Even Barkha Dutt (yes, the journalist) tweets: ‘If I “were forty I would have fought them tooth and nail,” said Husain to me, “still saare jahan se acha hindustan hamara”. Now that is grace!’ No wonder ‘M F Hussain’ is trending! There is a funny twist here, as Jayanta Bhattacharya observes in his tweet: ‘MF Husain loathed anyone who misspelled his name. He insisted it’s Husain, not Hussain. No respite even after death. #mfhussain is trending’

Another complement for the great artist comes from his fans from Qatar: @mahnooryawar @Razarumi @danhusain: ‘#MFHussain #art #India a great Qatari artist passes away, RIP, MF Hussain’ Not to say that Indians are not mourning. Most of us would agree with Natasha Badhwar: ‘And we will never lose you, MF Husain. RT @danhusain We’re an unfortunate country, #MFHussain. We lost you long ago. RIP.’

M F Husain has been hailed as ‘another rebel’ who is no more. This is pertinent as India stands face-to-face with a population ready to rebel against their elected representatives if nothing concrete is done to address the rising levels of corruption. This feeling transcends all castes, creeds, and religion… though Suhel Seth is critical of the anti-Husain wave on twitter and other online forums and says: ‘The tragedy is that India’s twitter universe is riddled with people who see the colour of religion in everything. Sad but true.’

I wouldn’t really be concerned about such waves because I believe that it is the absence of such opinions that tends to bring us nearer to a bigger catastrophe. Opinions, if unreasonable, need to be addressed and the perpetrator convinced. This is the only solution to marching ahead to an evolved existence. Everything has its own place in a sustainable ecosystem, so to say. We don’t like snakes, but they rid us of rodents… and we surely wouldn’t want rodents all over.  Good cannot be there if it doesn’t get an opportunity to vanquish evil, so to say.

Then there are those who want to colour every moment with a political implication. @amishra77 tweets: ‘RSS killed M.F. Husian to divert attention from flak that Baba Ramdev was getting for call to arms. #talklikeChidambaram #mfhussain.’ And the absolutely hilarious tweet from Mischief_jack that says: ‘Galat buddha mar gaya 😐 #MFHussain #RAMDEV.’ The implication is obvious.

The barefoot painter

The barefoot painter probably knew what it takes to create the right impression in an age where PR and the media rule, though no one can accuse him of having bought space in any publication to blow his own trumpet. Media space was all his when people discovered that did not wear any footwear. Maybe he was just trying to tell everyone that he wouldn’t want anyone to step into his shoes because the path he had decided to tread on was one that was full of controversies.

Contrary to all belief, this barefoot behaviour wasn’t at all contrived and affected, it was more because ‘Husain likes to feel the earth under his feet and insists he gets a tremendous amount of energy from that physical contact’, writes Shobha De in her blog. She goes on to reveal that ‘if you imagine Husain never ever wears footwear, think again. Even he is not such an extremist as to lope around the globe barefoot in winter. Meet him in New York, London, wherever, during those harsh, bitterly cold months and you’ll find him wearing smart boots to protect his toes from freezing. He knows frostbite does not spare painters — no matter how great. That’s Husain — a pragmatist first and everything else next.’ It is, therefore, relevant to mention her tweet too in this obit on the great artist. She tweets: ‘I feel blessed to have met MF Husain in London 48 hours ago. India has lost a Bharat Ratna.’

More than 17 months back, in January 2010, Anjolie Ela Menon observed, “This is not the first time we have thrown away our geniuses. In India, we recognise our national treasures only when they are gone.” Prophetic words indeed!

In an interview given to Tehelka in 2008, Husain remarked: ‘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.”

No wonder then that @Laugh_Riot tweets: ‘You can take a man out of his country. But you can’t take the country out of his mind!! #mfhussain.’

Irrespective of whatever anyone says, the world has with it a treasure of paintings that Husain created. These paintings will continue to inspire artists and non-artists – and those who really need to discover the artist within them – with strokes of pure joy that the heart has no reason not to accept.



Important moments from his life:

  • M F Husain lost his mother when he was one and a half years old.
  • The artist did his schooling from Indore.
  • Joined Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay in 1935.
  • Started off by painting cinema hoardings.
  • The 1940s saw him emerging as an artist with great potential.
  • Joined the Progressive Artists’ Group, founded by Francis Newton Souza in 1947.
  • His first solo exhibition was held at Zurich in 1952.
  • Awarded the Padma Shree in 1955.
  • ‘Vichar Mimansa’, a Hindi monthly magazine, publishes an article “M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher” along with photographs of his paintings of his portrayal of Hindu deities.
  • Gave us his first film ‘Through the eyes of a painter’ in 1967.
  • This film was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Golden Bear.
  • ‘Gaja Gamini’ and ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ are the other two films that he produced and directed.
  • Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973.
  • Nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.
  • Awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991.
  • Bajrang Dal attacks his house and artworks vandalised in 1998.
  • Husain charged with ‘hurting sentiments of people’ because of his nude paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in 2006.


Arvind Passey
09 June 2011


Featured image and other image credits: Transmedik