When my elder daughter was in class VI, the school had organized a seminar on Mythology for the students. She was asked to submit a painting of any Hindu god. My daughter had painstakingly drawn a huge portrait of Lord Shiva. She had spent hours on the painting, doing it a little by little. She, who never cared for drawing; sketched, rubbed and sketched again to draw a God we were so familiar with. She had experimented with colours to get the best effect. Embellished the final art work with gold and silver paint. Done the detailing with the finest of brushes. Her blood, tears, toil and sweat. The painting had them all. The day of the submission, an angry and spiteful classmate, for no reason, poured water all over the painting, stamped on it and tore a corner.
This needless act of violence devastated my daughter. She was angry, hurt and shocked. She did not understand why a boy would deliberately try to destroy a painting that she had so carefully and diligently drawn. She was inconsolable. The others in the class had rallied around her.They tried to salvage the painting by re-doing portions of it. They taped the torn corner with utmost care and went with her to the class teacher to complain against the bully. The class teacher dismissed their complaint with a " Boys will be boys and just get on with your lives" admonition. She was told not to be so "juvenile" and to learn how to deal with bullies. Though I did not really agree with the teacher at that time, I thought she indeed needed to learn how never to let the bullies win.
My daughter was no M.F Hussein.Though the people who destroyed his precious paintings and drove him out of the country were exactly like my daughter's classmate. Bull headed and prejudiced. And I can't help thinking that by choosing to accept the citizenship of Qatar, Mr. Hussein just gave in to the bullies.
Hussein has decided to be a citizen of a country which is not exactly known for freedom of expressions. We may have our share of fanatics and fundamentalists,we may still have a flawed system, but we definitely have a better track record than the Arab world. Specially when it comes to 'artistic freedom'. He of course would have the freedom to draw as many nude figures of Hindu gods and goddesses, if that was what Hussein meant by the term.
In India, his homeland, he was considered a living legend, a hero, a national treasure. In a country of one billion people, which struggles to produce a true icon, he was the free spirited, flamboyant artist many considered a role model. A struggler who made it big. A dreamer who found the rainbow. An inspiration to many. To leave now, at the age of 95, to another place for artistic freedom, just does not make any sense to me.
M.F. Hussein says that 90% of the people in this country love him and want him. And at the same time he claims his country rejected him. I would like to know his interpretation of rejection, just as I would like to know his interpretation of freedom. I do know however that by not staying here and taking on the bullies, he did a great disservice to the people of his own country who admired him. By fighting for his right to express himself here, on his home turf, he could have become a greater hero in my eyes.
Violence and vandalism have no place in a civilized country. Specially when that vandalism is directed towards art. But neither does hurting other people's religious sentiments have any place in a secular nation. We all have our views and we all have the right to express ourselves. In a civilized world, that expression also comes with a price.
At the age of 95, by settling down in a nation not really famous for respecting the fundamental rights, away from home, from family, away from the city that nurtured him...I wonder what price Mr. Hussein paid for his freedom.