How Green is Hussain's Valley!
Maqbul Fida Hussain was born in a lower middle class Bohra Muslim (Shia) family. His grand-father Abdul Hussain was a smith by profession who used to repair lanterns and such like things. His father was somewhat educated and worked as an accountant in Karimbhai Textile Mills, Mumbai. However, he had to leave this job and became a 'Timekeeper' in the Malwa-Indore Textile Mills at Indore.
His grand-father and father were both very religious persons. Hussain has drawn a painting of his father Fida Hussain in which he has been shown wearing a Turkish cap. This cap was also known as Fez cap. From the centre of the top of this red coloured round cap hanged a string at the end of which swings a black-coloured tuft. Prior to independence, many Muslim leaders and activists, used to wear this Turkish cap in order to establish their identity as distinct from Hindus. In the words of Hussain, his father was so religious that he read no books other than the religious ones. Hussain inherited not only his beard from his grand-father and father but also their religious orthodoxy.
ORTHODOX RELIGIOUS INFLUENCE
According to his biographer, Dhyaneshwar Nadkarni, born and brought up in a religious Shia Muslim family, 'Tazia' processions left a deep impression on the sub- conscience of Hussain from his early childhood. The hubbub and bustle of the procession, two or three tier 'Tazias' being carried in the procession with the accompaniment of loud drums, mourning crowds with blood oozing from the chests of many, the horse of Hazrat Imam- 'Duldul', the processionists being led by mourners in the guise of lion symbolising Hazrat Imam--all these terrific and awe-inspiring scenes greatly influenced his imagination.
Fed up with Hussain's behaviour towards his step-mother, his father sent him to his maternal grand-father's place at Sidhpur (Gujarat)) for being trained as an Imam. His maternal grand-father himself was an Imam of a mosque. During his stay there for three years, Hussain memorised verses from the Quran and obtained other religious training. But he could not continue for long and had to return to his father. Religious family atmosphere, and above that training as an Imam infused him with religious fervour. The religious colour was so thick that no other colour could affect it. Analysing his paintings, his biographer Nadkarni has said that "three of his paintings-'Moharram', 'Maulvi' and 'Duldul Horse' --represent that religious grooming that has been part of Hussain since birth. He has inculcated this religious streak both as an individual and as an artist."
Nadkami further writes that his beard and the cap which he used to wear were not mere exterior appearances, but are in fact symbols of his being fanatically religious and a pious follower of Allah--and that is what has found expression in his self portrait and his painting of 'Maulvi'.
Islam normally prohibits picturisation of humans. Having become a painter, Hussain has in a way violated Islamic injunction. This fact goes in favour of Hussain and presents him in the frame ofa 'liberal' and a 'rebel'. But there is the other side of it too. It appears that his defiance of Islamic injunction filled him with a sense of guilt. This is but natural in view of the background in which his thinking had been moulded. Therefore, he made an attempt to ensure that his Muslimhood may not become suspect. Accordingly, he tried to establish his image as an orthodox Muslim in his paintings.
PAINTINGS ON ISLAMIC THEMES
Hussain has drawn many paintings on Islamic themes. In 1948, he made a painting titled 'Moharram' and another under the title of 'Maulvi'. In 1949, he drew 'Duldul Horse' and in 1960, a painting under the title 'Fatima'. Fatima is the name of the daughter of Prophet Mohammad and mother of Hussain Imam. In 1966-67, he again painted 'Duldul Horse' after his pilgrimage of 'Karbala'. Incidentally one of Hussain's daughter lives in Jaddah (Saudi Arabia). Hussain often went there and from there to the pilgrimage of 'Karbala' in Iraq.
It was because of this religiosity that Hussain never availed 'creative license' in painting his Islamic themes. Nowhere in his Islamic paintings there is anything which might injure the feelings of any Muslim. In the painting of Fatima, her female figure has been shown in proper robes from head to toe with a book of prayer in her hand. With the use of different shades of blue, the painting appears to be bathed in moon-light.
INSULT TO HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES
Goddess Saraswati is by tradition supposed to be "Shubhravastravata", that is, wearing white garments. But in the name of freedom of expression Hussain has disrobed her in his painting. A similar act of blasphemy has been committed by Hussain in his painting of Mother Durga. Traditionally, Durga is also called 'Singhavahini' (rider of the lion) since lion is her vehicle. I have seen three paintings of Durga done by Hussain and in all the three he has shown Durga naked. In the first painting, she is riding a lion. In the second, even though she rides the lion, she has been partly merged into the lion. Her bare leg has been shown with stripes of a lion. The extreme of this is arrived at in the third painting in which the lion and the Durga are combined into one. It gives an impression that the two hind legs of the lion have been replaced by two bare legs of Durga, or that there is a position of near copulation in which her lower part has covered the lion's lower part. The raised tail of the lion also imparts an impression that there is a perverted sex ralationship between the lion
There is a long, well-set practice to sculpture and paint the Hindu gods and goddesses. These gods and
goddesses are recognised by their arms, vehicles, ornaments and postures. Thus Vishnu must have 'Shankh', 'Chakra', 'Padma' and 'Gada' in his hands; otherwise, the statue will not be that of Vishnu. Shanker's statue will have the Third Eye and crescent on his forehead. Rama carries a bow and Krishna is distinguished by a peacock feather and a flute. Similarly, swan is a must as the vehicle of Saraswati holding a Veena, and lion as the vehicle of Durga holding a sword. Had Hussain not captioned his paintings of Durga and Saraswati, nobody could have taken these pictures to be of these goddesses.
In modem painting of which Hussain is a self-styled torchbearer, what the artists paints is not necessarily conveyed to the viewer. The viewer is expected to find his own meaning in it, according to his perception and appreciation of the beauty of the work. That is the reason why the artists themselves do not give a clear caption to there modem works. Contrary to it, Hussain has given captions on the paintings of Durga and Saraswati.
A question that repeatedly strikes the mind is as to why Hussain has painted Durga and Saraswati in the nude, whom most Hindus worship like mothers. What artistic and aesthetic values has Hussain achieved by disrobing them? More so, when he paints his step mother 'Shirin' or his daughter, both are covered with garments all over. Can an artist's assertion of his freedom of expression be partisan? He did not hesitate to bare others' mother, but has put strict self-restriction on the artist's 'freedom of expression' to protect the honour of his own mother and daughter.
Many years ago, he went for Haj with his wife. Explaining the importance of Haj to Dhyaneswar Nadkarni, Hussain told him that there were seven basic tenets of Islam that include Namaz and Roza. Haj was also one of these seven tenets. Out of the seven, Hussain recounted only three tenets to Nadkami and left the other four. Probabaly, knowingly. Because of these remainig four one is 'Jehad'.
HATRED AND REPUGNANCE
I have before me a protion of a panel-painting by Hussain in which he has painted Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mao-tse- Tung and Hitler. Of these Hitler alone has been painted naked, not the others. Clearly Hussain paints only those characters in the nude, against whom he has some kind of hatred and repugnance. Has the same mentality not worked in showing Durga, Saraswati and Sita in the nude?
It appears that like Mahmud Gaznavi and Aurangzeb who broke the idols of Hindu gods and goddesses in their 'Jehad', Hussain too is indulging in 'Jehad',--by distorting images of these goddesses.
This country has bestowed more honour on Hussain than on any other painter Almost the whole of India, irrespective of religion, has showered love on Hussain. It was expected of him to prove himself worthy of it and not resort to anything which may injure the feelings of a large section of Indians. Hussain has not only hurt the Hindus, but also many Muslims who are working for communal harmony. Chennai based Muslim painter Syed Ali Husaini has painted Hussain in the nude and Mushtaq has distributed and pasted posters showing him in the nude, thereby expressing their resentment and protest.
Hussain's act has been an attempt to disturb harmony among Hindus and Muslims. He is guilty of communal separatism .... Mr Maqbul Fida Hussain, it is time to disrobe.
(Translated from Hindi by O.P. Khosla)