The obituaries that followed his death were 'banal' to put it mildly. All these years, somehow everyone from the Vir Sanghvis to all and sundries were out to defend Hussain's right for freedom of expression and the right to offend. It was almost becoming a secular ritual. Someone said, "Hussian's last wish was to come back to India". Another gentleman wrote, "A Humanist rooted in Indian-ness". Wow !
I am a human being in continued evolution. My strongest belief is, "This world will be a better place without religions". I have over the years, dissociated myself from the ritualistic and superstitious aspects of life. But I have done this gradually so as not to hurt and demoralize my parents and family. It isn't quite easy changing sensibilities ingrained over generations however senseless they might appear to us.
But what is easier is to cultivate better and more updated sensibilities in the coming generations. I have consciously helped my daughter to develop a scientific temper without becoming a prisoner of false beliefs and prejudices that had shackled her father.
Going against the wishes of others at home, I told her, "I wouldn't mind if you don't go to temple and pray because I am sure that doesn't really matter. But I would like you to grow up as a person who respects fellow humans and strives to be a good human being and nothing more".
My friend Ganesh Veluswami keeps quoting, "Blasphemy is a victimless crime". There is a catch in this statement. A Crime without a victim ? Then how does it become a crime ? Either Blasphemy is not a crime or there has to be a victim. Let me deal with that later.
Let us come back to Maqbool Fida Hussain. He is being lamented in the artistic circles and even in political circles. This isn't the first time someone is writing about Hussain. Neither is this the last post on him. Let us just look at some of his controversial pictures.
|Nude Sita clinging to Hanuman's tail !|
|Nude Saraswathi with Veena|
|A Nude Bharat Mata|
Now this has to be immensely insensitive for anyone to ignore. Every Hindu icon painted nude and totally out of concept. Being a Muslim, Hussain was not supposed to revere any God other than Allah. According to Islamic tenets, Bharat Mata doesn't exist. So if he conceived her, why she had to be nude ? It especially is enraging because he had painted his mother, his own daughter, mother Theresa and Prophet Mohammed's daughter; all fully clothed. This nude paintings 'business' was reserved exclusively for Hindu icons.
Why did he do so ? Hussain was a very shrewd manipulator. He knew anything remotely blasphemous about Islam would get him bumped off or his hands chopped off at the least. He also knew anything derogatory about Christianity would set all our bleeding heart secularists after him.
Hence he only had to do what he did all his life. Denude and keep denuding Hindu icons. But why ? Very simple, it will polarize the society between the conservatives, who would naturally be hurt and the bleeding heart secularists who would do anything to defend the fundamental rights of an artist.
Being a person of Minority religion was a huge advantage, though he and his supporters portrayed it as a disadvantage. He went on doing the same thing again and again, earning the wrath of the RSS and the other Hindu organizations [The extremist Hindu outfits, according to our secular brigade].
At worst these groups are capable of attacking his exhibitions and filing cases against him in different courts. By nature, these people weren't capable of any major harm unless it was something like Godhra. This exactly was his strength. He exhibited and sold more and more paintings thanks to all the din created by the right wing outfits and the free publicity he gained. When the number of cases filed against him became tough to handle, he escaped to Qatar and made it appear he was hounded out by the Hindus.
A man who pulled his movie 'Meenaxi' out of Cinema halls because the Ulema council didn't like certain lines from the movie, never once repented hurting the sentiments of millions of Hindu middle class. That middle class of which my mother too is a part of.
My mother dislikes politics, fights and action movies. She still loves Rajendra Kumar and Joy Mukherjee movies. She is religious with firm belief in Gods and Krishna is the ultimate God for her. She wouldn't let us kill cockroaches and frogs if they stray into our home. She would make us remove them from our premises without hurting them.
When I told her that M. F. Hussain is no more, that mother of mine said, "Well, at last he is dead. Let him go to hell and paint all the devils in the nude and let them roast him in olive oil".
The Argument: Art is not for common man, some intellectual had told. Then why do you hold exhibitions at all ? If what you do hurts someone, that is not right. And if you think that you have the right to offend others, you immediately become victim of the same right. Others too will have their right to offend you. Whole of my argument rests on this issue.
It makes no difference if you believe in Gods or not. It isn't important if you are religious or irreverent. But when your actions actively or passively hurt the sensibilities of others, you have committed a sin. Those who defend the right to offend will have to be ready to be offended.
If Bajrang Dal, VHP and RSS were violent in their protests and offended Hussain and his supporters, it was just a reaction. Even after taking Politics and religious fundamentalism into account, I still believe it just was tit for tat and nothing more than that.
Well, why do I believe so ? Let me give an example. Just imagine this situation. Someone paints Hussain's mother in the nude; or even worse, creates a morphed sex tape of his daughter. What would happen ? That would hurt Hussain and his family. He would have sued for defamation and even got those banned.
At least he would have gone to press and visual media condemning these offensive acts. All his supporters would have brought the www to a standstill. Candle light marches would have been held in support of Hussain and against the outrage to the modesty of women.
Let me refer to another incident. Some time back, an email showing some photographs of a palatial bungalow was circulated on the internet. It stated the mansion belonged to CPI-M Politburo member Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan. So what was the reaction ? The Cyber cell tracked down some hapless guy and booked him under so many sections, he will spend rest of his life fighting those cases.
Pinarayi comes from a party that has espoused the cause of freedom of expression and the right of minorities and all that. So how did this benign act become such a hugely punishable crime ? The same bleeding heart secularists condemn RSS of hounding out Hussain. Pinarayi could just have given a statement that the building shown in the email didn't belong to him and provide authentic proof. The matter would have been closed.
Then why did this high-handed atrocity take place ? If an innocuous forwarded email could get a semi-literate netizen in neck-deep trouble, what would a series of nude and hurting paintings do to an artist ? Well, to offend and to paint and to express is his right. Why this dichotomy ?
The inference: Sentiment is a right of Minorities, Secularists and Communists. Anyone claiming to be a Hindu automatically denounces this right in this secular country. If you claim to be a Hindu and still want to own the rights to protect your sentiments, then you are 'Right Wing Extremist' !
Argument continued: But there is a problem. My mother is a middle class Hindu lady as I have said before. She doesn't have great concepts about secularism or any ism for that matter. She still is very fond of her childhood friend Shana and still keeps talking about those wonderful years they spent together. She is an Aamir Khan fan. She is crazy about Cricket and loves Zaheer Khan as much as she loves Sehwag. She would pray to Guruvayoorappan to help Yusuf Pathan to succeed. With all these qualities, she can't be 'Right wing Hindu Extremist', right ?
There are millions of middle class women and men in this country and abroad who felt outraged by Hussain's paintings. People still defend him saying Hindu mythology has so many paintings and carvings and sculptures depicting nudity. But none of them were so out of context as a 'Nude Sita clinging onto Hanuman's tail'. If that shouldn't offend a religious Hindu, then nothing should offend Comrade Vijayan.
Blasphemy is a crime and my mother is a victim. So many more mothers are victims too. Any act of offense against the emotions or sentiments of a person or a group of persons amounts to violence. Violence can be physical or psychological, but it is violence nevertheless.
Those who perpetrate violence of any kind against the unsuspecting others, will have to be prepared to face the consequential retaliatory violence. Because, you are being beaten using your own stick.
The Sticks: The right to offend or Freedom of expression !
Old world wisdom: "Violence begets Violence" !
Maqbool Fida Hussain finally rest in peace, hopefully !
I rest my case !