x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Exiled painter ready to go home

Maqbool Fida Husain has spent four years in the UAE after his work resulted in criminal charges, death threats and attacks on his home.

Maqbool Fida Husain wanted to be sure that he was cleared of all charges before he went home.
Maqbool Fida Husain wanted to be sure that he was cleared of all charges before he went home.

DUBAI // The Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain, who exiled himself to the UAE four years ago after he found himself facing criminal charges, said yesterday he was ready to return home at "any moment" following reports New Delhi was trying to help him do so.

Mr Husain, 94, described by critics as "the Picasso of India", has repeatedly expressed a desire to return to India since charges were brought against him over a series of paintings, which included the depiction of a naked woman, in the shape of India, kneeling. The Bharat Mata - Mother India - paintings sparked death threats and protests by right-wing Hindus. Mobs attacked Husain's home in Mumbai.

The painter, whose work has sold for as much as US$1.6 million (Dh5.8m), said: "At last, they have taken this step after years of complete silence. "All four years, it is my hurt that I have been expressing. It is the love for India. No matter where you live, you have a bond with your country. It's been very painful for me." In September, the Supreme Court of India acquitted Husain of insulting the Hindu faith.

However, he has remained in exile with his family in Dubai, wanting to be sure that he was cleared of all charges before he went home. There were reports yesterday that India's home ministry was trying to persuade the court to end the remaining cases against Husain, which include making an offensive display, and that the government was keen for him to return. Husain has not been contacted by the Indian government, but is hoping for a call from the home affairs minister, P Chidambaram.

"If Mr Chidambaram calls me, I will take the first flight to India and go and congratulate him for taking this decision," said Husain, who was in Abu Dhabi yesterday to take part in the Festival of Thinkers, which starts today. Husain has apologised to those who were offended by his work and said he did not fear going home. Even when mobs stormed into his house, they did not destroy his paintings, he said.

"That is why I say that all this is political," he said. "I have got so much love and affection from Indians. It is only a few people who do not understand." Indian expatriates in the UAE welcomed the news of the painter's possible return home. "It's sad that the greatest painter of India is forced to stay away from India in the first place," said Shazia Kamili, 34, a senior media executive in Dubai.

"In many ways, the boundaries of acceptance are getting narrower. I am not sure if he will be safe. "Having said that, India as a whole remains a lot more receptive in terms of freedom of expression. "He has taken Indian art to an international level and his return is a move in the right direction." Elvis Chummar, 30, a popular Indian television presenter based in Dubai, said: "He is a world-famous painter and should not be denied returning to his home.

"While UAE is his second home, India is his home, and his return will only help him and the country. "Several pictures of Mr Husain have a national theme and I am sure his return to India will help his work further. It will make his pictures more colourful." Anuradha Krishnan, 37, a housewife who lives in Sharjah, said: "I follow art and I never found his work to be offensive. "This was all political and I am happy he can go back. But I fear for his safety."

Husain said he intended to continue painting if he returned home. "This will inspire me," he said. "India is a country with 5,000 years of culture and this is inspiring. "Countries are not identified by politics or military power as all that gets eventually wiped out. What remains is its culture. It's a language that is universal." @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae