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MF Husain to relive Mughal rule on canvas

The 92-year-old maverick master of abstraction is back in India with a show of his limited edition graphic prints titled "India in the era of the Mughals" at the India International Centre in the capital city.

art and culture Updated: Dec 18, 2007 19:08 IST

The controversy over the nude "Bharat Mata" painting, which had raised the hackles of rightwing fringe Hindu groups in India and abroad early this year, may have finally blown over for artist Maqbool Fida Husain who continues to stay away from the country.

The 92-year-old maverick master of abstraction is back again to the "land he loves" with a show of his limited edition graphic prints titled "India in the era of the Mughals" at the India International Centre here.

The frames, which recreate the grandeur of the Mughal rule in India through a mix of abstractions, symbols, calligraphy of Urdu poetry and snatches of life in the court of the emperors like Akbar, Salim (Jahangir) and Shah Jahan in vibrant colours, are also a tribute to Indian cinema.

According to the artist, the paintings have been inspired by K. Asif's legendary Mughal-e-Azam, the tragic love story of young Prince Salim or Jahangir and a poor girl Anarkali. The movie starring Dilip Kumar as Salim, Madhubala as Anarkali and Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar smashed all box office records when it was released in 1960. K. Asif died early at the age of 51 and Husain was closely associated with the family.

The 20-odd prints are from his Mughal India series ---- a set of 51 paintings--- housed permanently in Fida Museum, the artist's home-cum-workshop, in Mayfair, London. The artist, who loves to paint in series, is known for his horses.

This is the first large-scale show of Husain's recent works in the country after almost 19 years; the last significant display being in 1988. It has been curated by impresario Dolly Narang jointly with the India International Centre.

Husain's brush with Bollywood is not new. Earlier, he had painted actress Madhuri Dixit in his Gajagamini series and had also made a film of the same name starring the actress. But his portrayal of nude women and bold depictions of religious icons have often landed him in trouble.

"This sets the record straight. When I asked Husain in London in October what he missed the most about India, he said, diversity," said art critic-cum-historian Geeti Sen.

"India is such a unique composite entity...It has absorbed almost everything and I want my paintings to reflect it," Sen said quoting Husain, who is in Dubai at present as there is a legal warrant against him for allegedly offending Hindu sensibilities.

For the artist fraternity too, it is a big shot in the arm. "We have been waiting for this show for a long time. The last time, I met Husain him in London, I told him that he should come to India with his new works," said artist Anjolie Ela Menon, who was present at the inaugural ceremony on Monday evening.

Rajasthan Governor S.K. Singh, an old acquaintance of Husain and an art aficionado, was strident in his defence of the artist. "When I knew him as a student, he was 'fida' (crazy) about everything. Later he became Maqbool, socially-acceptable and now, he is just Husain, which is such a pity," he said, describing the artist's love-and-hate ties with the country's self-appointed culture police.

"Only a handful of people spread over 231 'thanas' or police outposts objects to nudity in his paintings. But to me, Husain represents the story of Gandhiji, the beauty of the naked truth. Nudity is one of the greatest things we Hindus have accepted, be it in Ajanta-Ellora or Khajuraho. I told him let's see who can hurt you at the IIC," said the governor, who is also a trustee of the India International Centre.

Husain has already apologized for causing any unintended offence through his painting.

A new map of "Bharat Mata" caps the controversy. The striking frame in bright shades of ochre and black with a national emblem of the wheel at the centre of the country's geographical outline like that of the "controversial Bharat Mata in the nude" makes a different statement---- "unity in diversity".

It is also the take-off point of the Mughal series with the opening lines of the celluloid epic Mughal-E-Azam, "I am India. The Himalayas are the guardians of my borders...," inscribed in Urdu across the heart of the "only landscape the artist has ever painted."