Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Price Freedom?

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.


Onkar said...

Well-written post. But I think, what an artist cannot compromise with is the opportunity to pursue his calling in peace. He may fight as long as the fight supports his art in some form. The moment it starts interfering with his art, he is driven to make a choice. At 95, one does not have much time and stamina left.

The Panorama said...

Brilliant post! I agree with you and I have always admired MF Hussein but like you I wondered how free would he be to give vent to his freedom of expression? I am not sure he would even be allowed to paint hindu Gods and Goddesses naked in Qatar as those countries are very strict about nudity. I heard that even playing music is frowned upon!
I am also disappointed in Hussein for rejecting India.
But at the same time I understand him too. He is 95 and maybe he is too tired to fight. India did let him down too. He might just be killed if he steps a foot in his home country again.
Maybe it is not his fight to fight. Maybe it is for the rest of us to ensure that the Indian democracy does not let people like him down again. We may not agree with him, but to drive him out is to undermine our democracy. He is a great artist so it is India's loss too.

The Holy Lama said...

Art and religion go together only when one complements the other. The moment they clash, it's one or other. History has shown many instances. True, we lose great artists and writers in this fight which saps energy of the writer/artist and the public too. And the idea that Qatar is a not a very good choice-needs to be examined. The society there has changed much in the last ten years. The govt there is very much conducive to new ideas and giving asylum to a great artist of our times has sent out the right signals that will be appeciated across the art and culture world.

Nupur said...

It's a two way coin A. pros and cons of staying back and may be he chose the other way round..after all it's individual perspective...

I must say your post is a 'wow'! And I felt so sad reading that Ishita's painting was destroyed by a bully :( Hugs to her now :)

Anuradha Shankar said...

very well written, Aparna.... giving in to bullies is what describes the situation best.... wonder why he did cave in... when he was so strong in other ways so far.... even i wonder what price he has paid for this new 'freedom'....

BK Chowla, said...

So much has been and perhaps will be written about Hussain.
Talking of freedom of expression , I would like to see him paint prophet in the nude and then explain the meaning of freedom.He dare not- I defy him.
The problem is that we are too liberal and accept a lot of nonsense, too much freedom has made hussain to defy Indian tolerance.
Let us write about him after he has painted the prophet in the nude as did with the hindu goddess.Till then, I dont think he even deserves a mention .
Good bye---hussain.

Sumandebray said...

I wish the boy was brought to task. For his own good and for rest of the classmates. It reminds me of an incident from my school daysinvolving my classmates. A girl completed the dissection of a frog and had very neatly labeled all those organs and went to wash her hand. On return she found her tray missing ... a boy had picked it up and submitted to the Miss. But it was undone and we still have a good laugh when we gettogether remembering that incident!

Mr B.K Chowla said it and would not bother to say anymore on this action of MFH.
On an unrelated incident ... Idi Amin lived in Saudi till he died a natural death!

Neha said...

I was unaware of this news until i read your article. I agree with you that India is the place to be for for all arts-men unlike hussain's decision to settle elsewhere...


kirti said...

We as a nation may have failed MF Husain , vandalism and Voilence may have prevailed but Husain sahab also failed to understand the feelings of people.
Just as he thinks art and its expression has a right to offend , beholders of this art also have a right to feel offended. Western world recognises this right to offend and be offended but in our country we are yet to mature as art lovers . Religion is far too sensitive and sacrosanct in our country to be treated with frivolousness.Hinduism and Islam equally alike in this matter.
I really wonder a person like
Husain, whose life always hovered around common men and ordinary dhabas and tea stalls could not understand this small detail .Did he not fail to understand the sentiments of common men too?

Vivek S Patwardhan said...

Your post sets the reader thinking.

People have a tendency to avoid conflicts, that too when public attention is focused on them, and we can understand his actions.

Painting goddesses as nude figures is surely going to infuriate people. He shouldn't have done it. Similarly driving away a great artist is equally a ridiculous response.

A Government without will allows both to happen.


Kavi said...

Wonderful post.

First things first. I hope your daughter learnt to deal with the bully. I hope and pray that she never let the other ( boy or girl ) push her out. I hope she has developed ability to distinguish between all that happens to her and her own response to it.

Knowing that she is your girl, i am sure you would have ensured these things in her.

wanderlust said...

Today's Times has an article by Shobaa De on the same topic. I tend to agree with her on this. Maybe at 95 he just wants some peace in his life.

Aparna said...

Onkar,there are so many thoughts on this topic, I would rather let other people express their views. I am not saying anything for or against their view points.Thank you for commenting on my post.

Panorama,there will always be two sides to a story, I just presented my side. Thanks for expressing your views on this. Ultimately after all it is his choice.

Holy lama, it is India's loss and I do feel deeply about this. However, it is his choice and we really can not hold him back. About Qatar, I hope you are right on this. The Arab world is not known for liberal ideas.

Nu, thank you so much.
Ishita still has not learnt to deal with bullies, but I have hope...may be she will learn one day.

Anu, thank you so much.

BK Chowla, you and many others feel the same way. But India also has not done the right thing by not giving him adequate protection. No body deserves to be driven out.

Suman, our school and college days are full of interesting anecdotes. Later on, we find most of the stuff funny. At that time however, we all felt differently.

Neha, thank you so much. I am glad you found my post informative.

Kirti, very balanced and candid views. I completely understand your take on this. Thank you.

Vivek, our government has always been weak when it comes to such issues. It has a typical knee jerk reaction.

Kavi, my daughter still has a long way to go. May be one day...

Wanderlust, I read the article today. Maybe we all should let him be in peace. And if Qatar offers it to him, so be it.

Tarun Mitra said...

A well written, well argued and balanced post.

In a fight, there are always two sides. In this case, MF chose the easier route only empowering his enemy.

If he is truthful enough he should come out and defend his 'intent' for painting such pictures.

It is not that I am against his paintings, every one has freedom of expression, and even in hindu mythology it is rather evident. But when it comes to "mentality" or thought process behind it, the trouble began.

The nation hasn't let him down, but he has. He should have defended himself and see the people rallying with him.

sujata sengupta said...

We have to deal with bullies at all times in life, I have just been ignoring them and itworks at times and doesnt at others. But to leave ones own country and give bullying as a cause is not fair!

ani_aset said...

i guess if dealing with bullies is important..its also important to curb the acts of these bullies so what the teacher said was not right in totality. Coming to MF hussain...he's just taken a sound business decision, more controversy enhances the value of his paintings..i'm sure your daughter paints better than him.

Swaram said...

Very well written.
Its so sad that the bully destroyed ur daughter's piece of art. These bullies need to be taught a lesson!

Swaram said...

Abt Hussain, I wonder if he wud do the same with any other nation/religion etc..? What freedom is he expecting there?

Pearl said...

Loved it Aparna. Specially the metaphor. Whatever Hussain chooses to do with his life is his course places and countries are complex places to comprehend too...who can say what is really going on in his mind when he chooses to stay in Qatar. Besides at his age I am sure he can be forgiven for deciding to not take up a fight. Its the thinking people who need to resolve this amongst ourselves!

Pearl said...

Btw I am really curious about what did you tell your daughter about bullies? :)

Destiny's child... said...

Everyone here has already presented their views on the MF Hussein issue. Like some others here expressed, even I feel that the man needs some peace now...

What I find most disturbing is that act of baseless fanaticism by your daughter's 11 year old classmate. I wonder where kids get this religious fanaticism streak from! An alarming thing indeed....

Sharmila said...

Well, if he is happy let him stay there ... after all how much time does he have left. What with the self appointed moral police breathing down our necks all the while, at least he might breathe a little easy now ... or say ... paint a little happily now. :-)

nsiyer said...

Wonderful, Aparna.Hussain sought his comfort zone not knowing how comfortable he would be. Being in India, he could have continued to live in the hearts of people, dead or alive.

Nona said...

Beautifully written post. Somehow I could not agree with the teacher's reaction! My sentiments may border on "Eye for an eye". But even then, the justice was not served correctly in her case.

Adopting a different country at 95 can be very traumatic. Here, we have difficulty changing jobs and apartments as years pass by. So, this would have been a very difficult decision. And we can pride ourselves into driving him to take that decision.

Aparna said...

Tarun, well said. I also can't help but feel that we were let down not just by the government's inaction, but also by Husain himself.

Sujata, who has been bullying my lil sister? Tell me now and i'll bash him/her up.

Ani, my daughter is many things, but painter she's not! And when have our teachers really taught us to handle life in Indian schools? What we have learned have been due to our own efforts.

Swaram, I can't help but feel Husain would not have done this to any other faith.

Purplesilt, thank you for your appreciation.
About my daughter, I have always told her to believe in herself and to up stand for her conviction. And always stand up to bullies.

Destiny's child, the boy in my daughter's class was not a religious fanatic, he was just enraged that day and took his anger out on the painting. The teacher should have sat him down and given him some home truths, sadly, she didn't.

Sharmila, I hope he finds the peace he deserves, wherever he may be.

nsiyer, he would have been loved in India by the common people. If it is India's loss, it is his as well.

Nona, thank you. I am not sure an eye for an eye would have been the right mantra, but I would have hit the guy. Unfortunately, most battles in life can not be won by violence :D

G S Pillai said...

well-balanced, and, as usual, thought -provoking. Had read newspaper reports and opinions to the same effect as what u wrote.

Am taking a break from blogging for a while, not getting the motivation or time.

By the way, am on facebook now.

G S Pillai said...

And I am really sorry what happened to your daughter. I hope she has no bitterness left. I wish she hadn't had to learn the lesson, too early in life, that there are people out there who would trample upon your happiness for no other reason that to destroy it.

Sandhya said...

I didn't like the attitude of the teacher, more than the boy, who destroyed the painting. Hope you daughter learns to ignore these things, but should be told in a milder way.

MF Hussain - I am with Chowlaji. I thought the Saraswathi painting was just a nude one, but there are more paintings which were done with a dirty mind. I came to know about it recently

Until I saw this one, I just ignored MF Hussain as an eccentric and thought artists should have freedom of expression. But he has abused only Hindu gods, here. I did not like this. The old man is a pervert.

Indyeah also has done a post on this one

Nethra said...

Lets say he didn't reject India but we rejected him. Few of his paintings are so vulgar. He had painted a nude goddess Parvati on head of a nude Lord Ganapati.

Anonymous said...
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Amitabha said...

Aparna, nice post. But I would disagree simply because a copulating Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Durga cannot be termed as an artistic liberty. I dont think MFH would dare do that with the Prophet and his family members!!
Coming to Govt providing security: He dint take approval of the Govt to paint the images. Why should the Govt waste tax payers money on protecting someone who indulged in such idiosyncrasies.
In fact I wrote a post yesterday on this

Kavita Saharia said...

Aparna i just don't understand this teacher's attitude.Destroying someone's project is a very serious thing .One positive aspect of this incident is that while there was one such bully there were many other helping hands too.I hope your daughter comes out of this traumatic experience( i am sure with a mom like you,she must have by now)as a much more stronger person.Its an inappropriate thing to say but i really want to thrash this teacher(sorry ,i couldn't stop myself from saying this).

Mr.Hussain was respected and loved a lot by this country .Even i think that he took this artistic freedom just too far.He earned lots of fame,respect and money through his work and it is very sad both for him and the country to loose each other this way.Its a mutual loss.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Very relevant topic. In fact, I was just reading a letter to the editor of HINDU paper from a retired college principal (She is a Catholic, by the way). She also feels India is more respectful of the right to freedom of expression than Arab countries.

Sakshi said...

Whoa the teacher said that? Well I am sure you are teaching Ishita how to handle bullies!

I don't agree with MF Hussain when he says we the people of India has let him down. It's he who has let down those who adored him. I always believe that freedom of expression should be used responsibly and not to mock other people's sentiments and religion. Seriously at 95 he must be loosing his brains to go to Qatar where he will be handed out a 12 inch book on how he should conduct himself and make his paintings...sigh! one doesn't realize what he had in India unless you live far away from her.

ZB said...

Humm, Sad but true. I agree with you completely.

But i feel at the age of 95, he needs peace of mind and rest and for that reason he has accepted qatari citizenship.I have read that he has so many Tax evasion cases pending against him in Mumbai High court. His paintings earn in crores per piece. Qatar for one place has no Taxes. Whatever he earns is his.

ANd its not true to say qatar doesnt respect fundamental rights of its citizens.Qataris are the most-taken-care of all of the world. They have Education, Medical, Travel, Even Vacations paid completely by the government.Citizens are royally pampered.Their unemployment benefits equal the highest salaries in India. And No Qataris work. Their population density( not taking into account the expatriate population) is one of the lovest in the world, making them the richest People on earth by Per capita Income statestics.

No Muslim will ever do anything bad against Islam. In Qatar he can draw any Hindu goddess nude. SO where is the question of freedom of expression or free speech.He can continue doing whatever he did in India, i feel in a better way.

I feel Hussain has opted Qatar for economic reasons than what most Indians think.We should stop making him out to be a Hero and blame ourselves. He is smart but we are an emotional set of people.((Disclaimer:Views expressed are mine and i don't claim that i am always correct)..TC:)

ZB said...

And i feel people really dont know much about Qatar. Middle east, except for Saudi Arabic is an absolutely free place to live.

Its not a place where Your hands get chopped if you do a petty crime. There are more Night clubs, dicos, Bars in Dubai than the whole of India( my own statistics, Every other corner in DUbai has a night club). Qatar is an absolutely free place to live( unless you are out of ur mind and insult Islam-That even in India you could get killed).

Walk into a mall and you would find double, if bot more, the average micro-mini skirts per sq Inch that any where in India( AGain my assumption based on being in Qatar every other week, and in India every other year)....There are courts and judiciery and noone innocent gets punished. But sad thing is Indians and Pakistanis(especially Biharis and UP bhais) are notorious and most of the crime is coz of them( its a fact).

Arunima said...

nice one. I am more interested in knowing how your daughter coped up though more than MF hussain. :-)