M. F. Hussain is no more.
The news trickled out on Twitter and then flooded the news channels.
Unfortunately, the next few days will not see a renewed spark in Hussain’s paintings. We will not be treated to discussions on where he fits in the firmament on world art and more specifically Indian art. Instead, his death has reopened the discussion around intolerance in India.
Last year, persecuted by right-wing forces Mr. Hussain took up citizenship in Qatar. It was a matter of shame for every Indian that a citizen of a democratic country, who had done nothing against the laws of the country was forced to take asylum (and let us not for a moment think it was anything else) in a country that is Islamic and should supposedly not be as tolerant. Kudos to Qatar and its sultan for this magnanimous gesture.
It is sad that we are increasingly becoming a species where groups are defined by what they cannot tolerate. A far cry from the days when our textbooks proudly claimed that India was a country that absorbed outside influences and made them Indian too. Starting from the Aryan settlement to the Mughal invasion and finally the British raj, we Indianized all of them.
Make no mistake this is not India specific. This trend of moving away from our pluralism can be seen everywhere. The US, a country that was built on immigration, is tightening its laws to make it difficult for people to migrate there. Americans in the throes of an economic meltdown find it easy to blame the foreigners and are calling to their leaders to protect them by stopping the “invasion”.
English? Very soon we will find some group becoming intolerant of the “foreign” words in English and call for us to return to the roots of “true English”.
What everybody seems to forget conveniently is that people and cultures change with the times.
There was a time when eating meat was the epitome of Hinduism. It was Buddhism that made Hinduism vegetarian.
Women in Islam were hidden away because Islam was born in a region filled with wars and women were carried away as trophies. So it made sense THEN to cover them up.
The early church decided against contraceptives because the need of the hour was to increase the Christian population. But the church today still holds on to an archaic proclamation even when millions of lives hang in the balance.
But then it strikes me, maybe I have made my case only too well. People and cultures do change and we are seeing one now.
The need of the hour is hate and the ability to hate.
The need of the hour is congregation and the ability to exclude inconvenient people.
The need of the hour is to be selfish and the ability to destroy anything or anyone that may stand in the way of one’s success.
I remember watching the movie Shooting Dogs. That night I lay in bed and cried like I hadn’t cried in a long time. When my wife asked me why I was crying I answered her, “How do we teach our children to hate? Because if we don’t someone else will kill them”.
Sad, sad, sad!
Mr. Hussain practiced the art of painting. Some of us liked his work and some of us didnt. But chasing him out of the country? That is a shame this generation of Indians will have to live with.
Shame! Shame! Shame!
RIP Mr. Hussain, wherever you are, we hope it is better than where you have gone from.