I have a sneaking suspicion that all the shame and discomfort among our liberal arts-friendly and liberal countrymen over M.F. Husain’s giving up his Indian citizenship has little to do with the artist no longer being an Indian passport-holder and everything to do with him choosing Qatar — “Qatar? Qatar?! Qatar!!” — as his country of abode.
You didn’t hear such a ruckus being made about another artist, say, S.H. Raza, settling down in Paris — or countless other talents. While Vikram Seth does share residencies in Salisbury, England, and in Delhi, and Amitav Ghosh with New York City and Calcutta/Goa, a significant part of their professional identity is made from the jobs outside India.
Much before and after Arundhati Roy spoke about her being an “independent mobile republic”, countless artists and writers were — and remain — unfettered by national identities.
What applies for writers, should apply even more for artists who are unfettered by language politics. And let’s not get into the nitty-gritty symbolism of passports, please. At the end of the day, for any artist his/her physical presence in a particular country is almost incidental and bureaucratic. So why is Husain being gobbled up for leaving India for Qatar?
Because, my Louvre and Tate Modern and MoMA-appreciating friends, Paris is Paris, London is London, New York is New York and Qatar is, well, Qatar.
What bothers our anguished culturewallas is that of all the gin joints in all the world, Maqbool had to walk into a Gulf kingdom. That’s essentially because the moneyed Gulf is perceived as what America was to Europe years ago: an upstart crow trying to be cultured by throwing money in the face of artists. Something that India, with its ‘civilisational prowess’ would rather not do because it can’t and isn’t really interested.
Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer.
The views expressed by the author are personal.