Indian Decade

Driving Genius Away

‘India’s Picasso’ may give up his Indian passport. What does this say about artistic freedom?

Free speech, a vibrant media and a no-holds-barred democracy are India’s ready rejoinders in any comparison with China. But, news of our most celebrated artist, M F Hussain, deciding to accept honorary citizenship of Qatar, an emirate state in the Persian Gulf, must force us all to think: how free and more importantly, how fearless really is our speech? 95-year-old Hussain has been living abroad, mainly in Dubai, as a fugitive over the last few years. He left India after receiving death threats from Hindu hardliners who were angered by his portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude or in sexually suggestive manners. His self-imposed exile began in 2006 after a Hindu group put a out tag of $11.5 million for his death. Hussain is no ordinary Indian. He is an icon, somebody who has been called ‘India’s Picasso.’ His works have sold for millions of dollars in auctions around the world.

In an interview carried in newspapers here, Owais Hussain, M F Hussain’s son, said his father ‘missed home in India terribly,’ but having a ‘sense of belonging’ was important at this stage of his life. He added, ‘He will continue to miss his real home wherever he is. You can take M F Hussain out of India, but you can’t take India out of M F Hussain.”

Because India does not permit dual citizenship, Hussain is set to lose his Indian passport after becoming a Qatar citizen. Can artistic freedom and personal liberty reside in an India that a Hussain can’t call home anymore?