Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My mother's lesbian friend!

Last few days city of New York is celebrating the law passed by the NYC Governor to legalize gay and lesbian relationships. This piece of news has generated lot of debate in India. Should Mumbai or Delhi follow New York city in legalizing gay marriage? Most of the times such debates are so disappointing, since in India any talk on sexuality is so regressive and illogical proposition. So I am not going to concern myself what the Indian people think about this issue.

Personally I am happy what NYC has done and hope more cities would follow soon. I never could understand why all this brouhaha about being a gay or lesbians and same sex marriage? Gays and Lesbians have existed here much before there has been any debate in India. There are many records in ancient texts, which give you ample examples of gay and lesbian existence in Indian social life. In fact they are some rites which sanction marriage' among for gays and lesbian relations. In Tamil Nadu, Hizra ( kind of gay and lesbian community in India) marry lord Krishna to be his bride. So why are we making such a deal of gay and lesbian marriage in India?

Well, I knew of a lesbian couple even before I heard or comprehended the word gay or lesbian in its true sense. This blog is for her memory.

Let me introduce to my mom's friend. My mom had a lesbian friend. Of course I never knew she was lesbian for a long time. It was only when I had got to understand the term gay and lesbian and on a whim I had asked my mother "was Jeevan lesbian Amma?" My mom who was ailing of cancer then, had smiled weakly without saying anything.

Jeevan - means life. I have to use past tense becasue she died many many years ago, much before my mom passed away. She was tall may be 5 feet 6 inches, broad and hefty and rugged like a man. But that could be just my childish perception to associate feminine as dainty and delicate and masculine as rough and rugged. Or was this perception enhanced by the nick name my mom had given to her. She used to lovingly call her "Jeevan the Bheem"?

Jeevan would come visiting us quiet often. she was more like a family than a friend and often had access to every part of the house. I remember she would walk in and walk out of the house any odd time of the day and mostly she would come calling on my mom and they would sit in a room and talk hours together. As a kid I never understood what they were talking about. But their expressions would be very serious and often I used to hear my mom consoling her.

Nevertheless whenever she would come over, we children would have great time. She was not only funny; her exaggerated mannerisms added to her character. But all said and done she was a normal human being, treated like any other guests in the house. And as far as I remember she was never discriminated for her sexual orientation. Hence I never got to know she was a lesbian till I started reading about it in books magazines and news paper as a category of people other than heterosexuals.

Jeevan openly lived with her female partner. She had a permanent job at a local girl's convent school where she taught at secondary school level. I don't know how good her social life was becasue I was too young to understand the complexity of it. But I do not rememebr any one discriminating her for her sexual orientation. Elders generally remained hushed but never harassed her or socially castigated her or her partner in any obvious manner. Probably Jeevan had her own tales to tell which I could not have known as a child. But I guess she had accepted that any person who dares the social codes has to accept some form of scoff from society. It is price that you pay for being different and is applied to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

I could never understand the bonding between Jeevan and my mom. But they were very close friends. My mom never discussed anything about Jeevan or her life with us but I knew she had great sympathies for her and that made Jeevan all the more special for us.
When I asked my mom why you never told us that Jeevan was a lesbian? were you trying to hide her sexual orientation from us? She had a straight forward reply, " I knew someday you would discover about Jeevan's lesbian nature. But had I made you aware her lesbianism, you would always viewed her first as a lesbian than as a person. Gays and lesbians are people like me and you. There is nothing different to talk about".

I am not sure if her explanation was kind of covert defense for not discussing other sexual orientations or a brilliant strategy to respect gays and lesbians as human beings. For my child mind, message was delivered in a simple statement. Any kind of "other-ness" should never precede the person who or she is. It is the person and the human who comes first.

As I watch gays regaling in New York, my thoughts go out on Jeevan. How would she have reacted to such a news ?. Would legalization of relationship would have made any difference to her life? She did not hide her relationship but she never had a social sanction too.

Jeevan was the first lesbian I met in my life. I thank my mother, because she was Jeevan first, lesbian later! But more than that she was a dear friend of my mother!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

M.F. Husain and Fame Monster

"M.F. Husain dies at 95"- declares one of the news channels announcing the death of India's premier contemporary artist. Ticker line below the live news feed, shows, quotes from various significant personalities reacting to this news. "Great loss to the Indian art". says Prime minister of India. "There can be no more Husain again, he is only one of his kind". says yet another celebrity artist.

As the news of Husain's death spreads, various voices of condolences pour in. Memories are recounted. And eulogies are being written. Very soon there would be official ceremonies where people from art world would recount how they remembered him. How important an artist he was to India and the world.

Obviously, I never knew him as a person. So I have no memories to recount here to suggest , how sad or shocked I am by the death of M F Husain. There is no doubt Hussein was the most famous contemporary artist of India, after Raja Ravi Verma, whom common man of India identify with the visual art of India.

I often wonder what Husain meant to me as an artist? and was he really the greatest artists of India? To briefly recount, Husain's trajectory as an artist: Maqbool Fida Husain was born in Pandharpur, Maharashtra India in 1915. He was one of the founder members of Progressive Artists Group(PAG) along with F. N. Souza who defined the story of contemporary Indian art and its direction. Husain was one of the few artists of India who held his exhibitions abroad and was invited in various international art events as celebrated artist of India much before Indian contemporary art became noticeable on the world art map. He shared dais with renowned artists like Pablo Picasso and virtually exhibited in every respectable museum all over the world. He was also an experimental film maker, and explored other medias besides painting which was his primary media of expression.

Husain was not only prolific painter but also one of those few artist who knew the business of art. He was a great friend of Nehru and later with Indira Gandhi , both former Prime Ministers of India. He was thus awarded a membership at the Parliament as a Rajya Sabha member during congress rule. besides being conferred with Padma Shri ,Padma Bhusan and Padma Vibhushan awards from Government of India, Husain has many many national as well as International awards under his bag. In short Husain as an artist was far ahead of his peers from his field, and had literately achieved every possible milestone of artistic achievement that any artists strives and dreams to achieve. There was no doubt the greatness of Hussein was all written in his achievements he conquered in his journey as an artist.

But was He the greatest artist? That can be another academic debate.
For me,the intrigue or mystic of Husain was not in his art but the life he lived, which can be summed in three aspects to his life.1. His larger than life image of an artist he created over the period of time.2. The controversies he lived through his life .3. loneliness of exile and eventual death in exile, marks a typical canvas of 'hero'.

Husain was unlike other artists. He was neither introvert and shy like Gaitonde, or Tyeb. Arrogant and abusive like Souza or polite and glib like Raza. Husain was extrovert. Smart. Intelligent and unabashedly focused on being famous. He was a showman first, Painter second. It was evident that what ever he did he did it with an air of showmanship. As artist Akbar Padamasee recounts " Hussein loved to be in news. Hussein was The news".

Indeed everything Husain did was the news. Husain hobnobbed with rich and powerful, beautiful and glamorous people. He rarely moved with fellow artists. Or he even discussed his art with his peers. Whenever he talked about his art, he directly spoke to the people of India, through media. Art Critics, art historians, gallerirst hardly mattered to him as far as his art was concerned. He painted for the rich and famous, powerful and glamorous people.

He was addicted to fame. Fame was his magnet.
All his activities revolved around that magical four letter word.

In 60s and 70s when art scene in India was as good as non existent, Husain was exhibiting his works in Museums abroad. When artists struggled to show and sell their works for few hundreds of rupees , Husain begged commissions for murals in all important institutions for several thousands of rupees , when artists were jailed during emergency by then prime minister of India, Husain praised and painted slogans saying India is Indira and Indira is Mother India.

Husain was unlike any artist. He never fitted in any mold of an artist. Nothing he did seemed right for an artist. He never lived by any rule. He never belonged to any world. Including the art world that he formulated. The only common thing Husain shared with his fellow artist is his love for painting. Husain loved painting. And he painted everything, from canvas to paper, to walls to cars to horses to naked bodies. Husain painted till his last breath.

No one had an inkling that he would die so sudden. He was ailing last few years but that never stopped him from painting and conceiving grand projects. He painted like a child talking about it, dreaming about it.It is this passion for his art that sets him apart from rest of the flock.

But what killed Husain? Shoba De in her interview recounted, that when she had gone to meet Husain in the hospital two days before his death, Husain had wished to be in India. He missed Mumbai where he roamed freely. When he drank famous Badasha's Falooda. Where he watched the setting sun at Haji Ali and rain at Marine drive.
In short Husain longed to be back in his home land. The homeland that had exiled him and the same homeland that he had renounced.

Technically, Husain died of congestion in chest and heart failure as channels announce.
But in reality he was killed by the Fame Monster.
It is shame and pity that fame he sought to become famous turned into a huge a monster- A Fame Monster which finally killed him as a lonely sad, old man longing for his home and people, the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes of his homeland that he yearned for. He just paid the price of being famous.

Controversies and debates will prevail around Husain even after his death.
Where Husain was great artist or not, only time will tell.
But he certianly was an artist that lived and died for India and therefore I salute him for his spirit for his mystery that he was.

So long Mr. Husain... R.I.P