Monday, August 15, 2011
Fundamentally, Hussain was a deeply rooted Indian. Having two selves, is something uniquely Indian among India's minorities. His sense of being was of a deeply imbued Indianness replete with its deities and iconographies. No matter what may be said of what he should or should not have done, Hussain in this sense was a manifestation of Indian culture and was suffused in it. That is the point that cannot be discounted. His was not an objectified self. He was a social construct, a unique expression of Indian culture and how it permeates us all.
Early on Hussain took a position, essentially moving from becoming, towards being a brand, a manifestation that enthralled and fascinated Indians with its potentiality of what an artistic existence meant. He set himself a trajectory—a high-wire reality, while believing it "unlikely that any particular incident will have any influence" on him, since he drew inspiration from "everything under the sun." This gives us a tiny sense of how he perhaps viewed the idea of influences and impacts—which affects all artists. The mark of a person who wishes to zealously set himself apart from others. He oozed the very notion of culture, and projected strength in all that he did and touched.
Where did he get his chutzpah—that nawabi mien, that Indians across the spectrum saw and gushed over, and in recent years many disdained the object of their adulation. A maverick that had to be branded! Did he regard anyone as a significant mentor, Souza perhaps? Or did he consider himself as an entirely self-made entity. Or were there a range of factors that only a few know? These questions do dovetail his artistic reach, his acumen, the subjects he painted over the decades, his singularity, force of will, as also being closer to the ground sans footwear.
Although much has been made of his intellect, his work was far from complex, in fact very accessible. A contradiction? Or, one was having the ability to work in a "getable" vein? Perhaps both. Yet Hussain walked his walk, he talked his talk; opening himself up to opportunities where he engaged with other artists, students and Indians. His body of work embraced the idea of Indian—vast as it is. He thought big. He was an artist of many hats, including to many—a political artist. Many consider it imperative to apply to Hussain the sobriquet "Picasso of India,' but Hussain's most relevant contribution to Indian modernity would be that by living his unique artistic act, He gave Indian artists a primer in branding themselves with an artistic spine, and the much cherished reach.
Then tragedy visited in waves. The banishment! Was it forced or self-imposed? Exile. Forces arrayed themselves against him in mind and spirit. A forced exile, as it is seen in most corridors of silence. Qatar received him. India was down by one of its sons.
Art is a peculiar beast with its connotations and denotations. In a country where the idea of common law is still not enforced—other issues will get complicated. But yet we all wish for our interstice of modernity, alongside our spiritual underpinnings.
"I'd like to die like a soldier with the boots on," he had said. Perhaps it was a mere turn of phrase, or a churning of words? In that regard Maqbool Fida Hussain was a sipahi, a sentinel of the Indian avant-garde to Indian mores and exuberance. He is no more but yet there will be many Hussains’ of the mind. He was one and many, like the proverbial Kokopelli. Mysterious and magical. Time will reveal more, but for sure each of us has a Hussain in and of our minds.