MF Husain’s Interview for Khaleej Times (March 1, 2007)

MAQBOOL Fida Husain, or simply ‘MF’ to art connoisseurs across the world, has been in the eye of a storm, thanks to some of his recent sketches. The “International Gypsy”, as he likes to describe himself, has been living in Dubai for nearly a year now. Back home in India, a section of Hindu extremists is adamant that this “Muslim painter” must answer for the “insulting” depiction of their deities. At 90-plus, one of the most visible symbols of secular India is facing a court case as well as a concerted hate mail campaign geared to socially isolate him. In a freewheeling interview with Mehre Alam, the celebrated painter talked about some of the controversies, apart from art, answering some questions, skirting others. But he was crystal clear about one thing: No amount of censorship can bog down an artist, for he or she is always ahead of the times.

Excerpts of the interview: (Click this link to view the page)HPSC6803

Mehre Alam: How has life in Dubai been like for you?
MF Husain: I have been coming to Dubai for the past 30 years. My brothers were working here. I came to Dubai for the first time in 1978. At that time there was hardly anything that we see here now. I have seen the whole city grow in front of my eyes.
Around three years ago I decided that I must have my own base here in Dubai — my own museum and my own villa. The reason is obvious. Dubai is going to become a major art center of the world. They have all the means to achieve that. And they have the vision.
The economic growth of this country has been phenomenal.
However, as far as the cultural aspect is concerned, there has not been much to look forward to in the past. But I must also say they are changing this perception. They will host a very big art event this year in Dubai, bigger than any other art event organised in any part of the world.
I saw the future here. And this future not only concerns the art world but also many things else. Dubai is likely to surpass every other city in the world in its uniqueness and grandeur.

Mehre Alam: You have often described yourself as an “Ïnternational Gypsy”. But you have also confessed to being homesick. Which one is the real Husain?
MF Husain: I am going to India next week. There is no such problem [he refers to the concerted hate campaign against him]. In fact, I have been working abroad for the past 50 years or so. In the 80’s, I worked in New York. Prior to that, I was working in London and Paris. I love to work in various places. I have no permanent studio anywhere in the world. I even work in my hotel room or any other place where I feel comfortable. I love to work in various environments.

Mehre Alam: How badly do you miss India?
MF Husain: India is my motherland. Dubai is not. But please do not arrive at other conclusions. It’s not that some of the fundamentalist forces have been keeping me away from India. Nothing like that. It’s my choice. I wanted to work here. They say I am in an exile. But the government has not enforced anything.
It’s an altogether different matter that a legal case is going on against me in India. But earlier also, a case filed against me went on for eight years. You cannot avoid the law.

Mehre Alam: There is a widespread feeling that you have become a target of religious football.
MF Husain: I don’t think so. This talk is all bunkum. It’s the creation of the media. They have never stopped me. Nor have they ever been able to stop any creative movement even in the past.
Take the Progressive Movement in India. We launched this contemporary art movement in the late 40’s. It began in Mumbai and then went to Kolkata, Delhi, etc. In fact, there were some restrictions under the British rule. We fought the British influence in art. There was also this revivalist school in India that wanted to take it all back. They, too, had no vision.
But we fought both these two forces in what was like a political campaign. The Progressive Movement started in 1947. By 1960-61, these two schools of thought had been virtually demolished.
At one time, there were restrictions in the art colleges in Delhi, Kolkata and other cities. Students were advised against meeting us “the Progressives”. Because we were supposed to be the people who were corrupting the Indian culture. But today, where are those revivalists? They were all thrown out.

Mehre Alam: How important is creative freedom for an artist? Should artists be more sensitive towards religious sentiments of various groups or sections of people? Should there be some limits to freedom? Your freedom ends where my nose begins…
MF Husain: I mus repeat that I have never felt the pinch. Never! I am working here in Dubai because it’s my choice. They did not ask me to go away from India. There is no warrant or anything like that against me back home. This has all been created by the media who hunt for such controversies. If you live somewhere else, they’ll read meaning into it. They’ll say, Husain has been thrown out of the country.
Yes, I agree that public opinion is different. What I mean to say is that people may start believing such things. So let them believe.
If you see the history of mankind, artists have always been ahead of their times. In Europe, for example, after Renaissance, when Impressionists came, they were accused of being bogus. They faced allegations. They were thrown out. Now, Impressionists are part of the classics.

Mehre Alam: As a Member of Parliament of India, you painted a lot of historical figures. Now that you are staying in this part of the world [Middle East], should we expect to see sketches of figures of this part of the world?
MF Husain: I am an Indian painter. No matter where I stay, in whichever part of the world, I shall always paint India. My latest exhibition, too, is titled the “Ïmprint of India”. This is the result of my one year of meditation. I restricted myself to my work to finish it.
I lived in New York and London, but I never painted the US or the UK. There were a few sketches here and there, but it was mainly India that I had been painting.
My culture is Indian. This is a 5,000-year-old culture. Why should I choose to go the other way? The Indian culture is truly unique. It’s made up of so many influences that came to India. The influences remained here. Together, they evolved into a composite culture.
In Italy, if you observe it closely, there is not a single non-Christian symbol. They claim to be very modern, but they are actually very retrogressive in this regard.

Mehre Alam: What is your take on the clash of civilizations?
MF Husain: I think it’s all political and economic. That’s why we artists have nothing to do with that. The art or culture world has nothing to do with this so-called clash of civilizations. There never was a clash of cultures at any point of time in the history of mankind.
In fact, as far as culture is concerned, there never was a clash of civilizations. It has always been give-and-take. The culture of the world has evolved. Take Egyptians or the Chinese for example. They have become univesal cultures, but by still keeping their identities intact.

Mehre Alam: So it’s more superficial than real.
MF Husain: Culture means the way of living. For example, the Indian or Chinese way of eating or dressing. If you talk of culture, there has always been an interaction, a give-and-take.

Mehre Alam: Do you think there is need for more dialogue between the West and the Muslim world to avert any real or imagined clash of civilizations?
MF Husain: Let me reiterate that as far as the art world is concerned, there is no misunderstanding. The problem lies in the minds of those who are clashing for political or economic reasons. The artists are not concerned with all that. We are there to create harmony through music, literature, painting. That has been the role. Always.

Mehre Alam: Of late, there has been a concerted hate mail campaign against you. At the same time, there has been a sea of support for you too. Do you feel concerned?
MF Husain: I am only concerned with art and culture. I have no opinion on anything else.

Peacenik Imran Will Bring Peace With India: Book

UNLIKE THE Taleban-friendly image that a section of the media portrays of him, Imran Khan is more of a peacenik, a new biography of the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician says. The book Imran versus Imran: The Untold Story, published by Falcon & Falcon Books Limited, says while Imran is not vulnerable to war-like emotions, he wants love to conquer the frontiers of war.

Imran learnt the power of ‘Make Love, Not War’ counterculture slogan during his Oxford days, says the book authored by Indian journalist Manoj Kumar, who writes under the pen name of Frank Huzur.

However, what in all probability is likely to raise the ghosts of the past in the context of the Indo-Pakistan relations is his observation on former Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee’s historic bus trip to Lahore in 1999. “The Lahore Declaration was doomed to die right from the start,” Imran is quoted saying in the book.

Why? “Only pomp and splendor don’t bring cheers on the ground. Nawaz Sharif acted once more unilaterally. His army Chief of Staff, Musharraf and other service chiefs refused to welcome his decision to go ahead with ‘Bus Diplomacy.’ The Indian Prime Minister had the confidence of the entire nation, whereas Nawaz didn’t have approval from his own army. Musharraf didn’t join him at the Wagah Border,” Huzur quotes Imran as saying in the book, which is basically a ‘political biography’ of the erstwhile dashing cricketer.


It was Sharif’s own decision to roll out the red carpet for the Indian PM, says the book, while adding that Nawaz wanted General Musharraf, Air Chief Marshal Parvez Mehdi and Admiral Fasih Bokhari to be present, clad in full military regalia, to salute Atal Behari Vajpayee and shake hands with him.

“His military chiefs had serious reservations. They were not happy about their Prime Minister compelling them to salute ‘the head of government of an enemy country’ and particularly one belonging to the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

Meanwhile, in an email interview with the Times of Oman, Huzur shed some more light on Imran’s views on India, where he continues to be hugely popular.

“He (Imran) often recommends his party workers to learn from the civilian institutions of India. I often heard him talking about the social empowerment of marginalized people in India.”

Huzur added that while Kashmir may be hanging fire in his eyes, Imran wants dialogue and demilitarization to resolve the disputed issue.

“I believe Imran Khan is not one of the rabble-rousing politicians of Pakistan who often talk ill of India. Even while he has been a close ally of religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-Ulema-Islam of Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, his ‘pro-India stand’ has been a moderating influence on these anti-India voices,” said Huzur.
(This article first appeared on the Front page in the Times of Oman newspaper on July 9, 2011. Click the link to the PDF below to view the page)
Al Arabiya News also carried this article 

Page 01 (2)-Imran story

Last Stand Of The ‘Last Pharaoh’

BRADLEY HOPE, a US journalist based in Cairo, who published the e-book Last Days of the Pharaoh, examining Egypt’s 2011 uprising, described to Mehre Alam some of the interesting facets of his writing sojourn

(This article appeared in the Times of Oman newspaper on September 2, 2012)

THIS IS the story of how Egypt’s ‘last Pharaoh’ fell. A lot has already been written about it. But this one throws light on some of the untold anecdotes of those 18 fateful days that reshaped Egypt’s history, and indeed the region’s.

Egypt-based US journalist Bradley Hope, who has weaved his tale based on interviews with senior officials and political leaders close to Hosni Mubarak, believes that sometimes one can get to the truth — of what happened during a big event — only after some time has passed by.

“The pace of news in the region (Middle East) has been so fast over the last year-and-a-half that there hasn’t been a lot of time for looking closer at what happened in the countries of the Arab Spring,” Hope, a New York University graduate, told Times of Oman.

No wonder that while reporting on Egypt’s transition, he found himself constantly wondering what exactly happened during those 18 days, and whether the people at the helm were completely corrupt, completely delusional, or a mixture of the two?

“Many of the NDP (Mubarak’s National Democratic Party) officials and others who were close to the president (Mubarak) were scared of speaking in those first months, but 18 months later they began feeling more comfortable about giving their side of the story,” said Hope, while earmarking some of the key challenges he faced in his writing sojourn.

“The biggest challenge was first to convince these former top NDP officials to speak, but after that it was checking and cross-referencing their accounts for accuracy. Some of the discussions they had can’t be easily confirmed because the other people involved are in prison — or in the case of Omar Suleiman, the former spy chief of Egypt, dead,” said the scribe who moved to Cairo in April 2011 to cover North Africa as a foreign correspondent.

Among the most notable interviews in the book is the one with Hossam Badrawi, the last secretary general of the then-ruling NDP, who was appointed during the 18-day uprising and failed to save the regime.

Do you think Badrawi could have changed the history of Egypt if he had been able to convince Mubarak of the need to announce political reforms and handing over power, immediately? “Badrawi ultimately failed to convince the president — and his close advisors — to follow his advice. We can never know what would have happened if Mubarak had followed his plan completely, but it would have certainly made it possible for a softer exit for the Mubarak family,” replied Hope, who worked for two years as a police reporter and feature writer for the New York Sun before joining an Abu Dhabi publication.

“The key thing about Badrawi is he was a reformer within the NDP, not someone criticising it from the outside. His philosophy was that change could come from within the party and I am not sure that was actually possible, considering the NDP’s long history and the dominance of the old guard who were involved since the 1970s.

“I think it is fair to say there was a flaw in thinking the party could be reformed from within. What Mubarak truly needed to do — and it would have been good if he did this in the 1980s — was to reform the political system so that there were periodic rotations of power and room for real political parties to exist and contest seats in parliament.”

Lack Of Vision

Mubarak’s greatest failure, according to Hope, was his lack of vision for Egypt, both politically and economically.

The consequences, Hope reiterates, are felt everyday in Egypt, where people struggle to get by and most political parties are still very inexperienced because they are so new. “Even if it turned out that Mubarak and his family had stolen no funds from Egypt during the last several decades, his lack of reforms represent enough of a crime,” reasons the 28-year-old author, who is the co-founder of the New York Moon, an experimental publication based in New York.

As a journalist based in Cairo, how does he rate current Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s performance so far? Does he see this year’s August protests as an ominous sign of the things to come? “It is hard to make an assessment of a president this far into his term. He obviously has a vision for Egypt, which is laid out in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Renaissance Project. But it will take us several years to determine whether those ideas were what Egypt needed at this sensitive moment in its history.

“The protests last month were very small in the scheme of things. I think most Egyptians are willing to give President Mursi some time to prove himself before they take to the streets again.”

Recalling some of the most telling anecdotes on Mubarak that come forth from his long interviews, Hope said Badrawi’s dramatic and frank discussions with Mubarak stand out the most during those 18 days, particularly on February 9, when he watched the president realise that his regime was finally at its end.

“But my favourite person in the e-book is Mohammed Ashoub, who was Mubarak’s make-up artist. He provided a lot of detail about what Mubarak was like — his love for his grandson; how he was exhausted and retreating from day-to-day affairs.

“It’s important to render dictators as human beings — with all their weaknesses and strengths — to understand historic events.

“It doesn’t mean you have to like Mubarak and justify his decisions, but it complicates an understanding of how he ruled Egypt. It would be healthy for Egypt to stop seeing everything in terms of black and white — for the purposes of reconciliation and moving on.”

Finally, as a US journalist based in the Middle East, would he acknowledge the existence of this “perception deficit” in the West when it comes to the portrayal of the ground situation here in this region? “I think some Americans have a nuanced view of the Middle East. The US has many great newspapers, with very talented and knowledgeable foreign correspondents, so there is a lot of coverage of events in the region. Sometimes the coverage is very US-centric, but often it is quite excellent.

“But, at the same time, few Americans travel to the Middle East and I think there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to understanding the culture, political history and religious life in these parts.

“I think the inverse is also true. Many people in the Middle East don’t fully understand the US in all its intricacies.”

(This article first appeared in the Times of Oman on September 2, 2012. Below please find the page)

Bradley Hope (centre) in Libya last year, where he was reporting on the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. – Supplied picture

Bradley Hope (centre) in Libya, where he was reporting on the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. – Supplied picture

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