What is common between Satyajit Ray, MS Subbalakshmi, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan and Lata Mangeshkar? All of them are top of the league artistes in their respective fields and recipients of country's biggest civil honour Bharat Ratna Award.
Now, 117 artists cutting across different hues have asked President APJ Abdul Kalam to bring painter Maqbool Fida Hussain at par with them, by conferring Bharat Ratna award. The list includes Shashi Tharoor, Shyman Benegal, Irfan Habib, Saeed Mirza, Jayati Ghosh, Akbar Padamsee, Muzaffar Ali, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Kundan Shah, Raj Babbar, Subha Mudgal, Teesta Setalvad and Mira Nair.
Hussain is living in a self-imposed exile in England from earlier this year after numbers of cases were registered against him for allegedly depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses in a bad light. The right-wing organisations including RSS have been demanding legal action against Hussain for the paintings and had even staged protests in various parts of the country.
In a letter to President last month, the artists, however, urged that Hussain has achieved 'reworking aesthetic traditions of India including especially the tradition of iconographic innovation'. "He is among those few modern artists who have focused on mythological and epic narratives, and, for over half a century, he has painted themes from the epics in literally thousands of paintings and drawings," the letter said.
They also said that Hussain has been steadfast in maintaining a most affirmative relationship with the Indian peoples' consciousness of their national identity. "Though him", the letter said, "we have learned to address a whole gamut of issues pertaining to the interactive dynamic of modernity with the country's many layered art and culture.
Terming his as certainly one of the most prominent post-Independence artists to shape and understand the contemporary art, the letter said, "this is an opportune and crucial time to honour him for his dedication and courage to cultural renaissance of his beloved country.