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After maintaining almost a week’s silence after announcing his change of nationality, artist M.F. Husain appeared on NDTV 24×7 on Wednesday to speak about the change. A day later, he spoke to Mint from his new homeland, Qatar. Edited excerpts from a phone interview:

When you spoke to Mint in October, you said you were desperate to return to India and end your self-imposed exile. What changed between then and now?

I realized that all this talk was coming in the way of my work. I’m 94 and not getting younger, and I want to focus on my art at this stage. I’m dedicating myself to finishing the artworks for three permanent museums in London and Qatar that are being prepared to host my works. There’s also this project on the 100 years of Indian cinema that I’m set to finish soon. I’m really looking forward to all of this.

But this change in nationality doesn’t dissolve the legal processes or the mob threats against you. What statement did you hope this act would make?

Artist in exile: MF Husain says it’s sad he hasn’t been able to set foot in his own country, but he doesn’t feel victimized. HT

Artist in exile: MF Husain says it’s sad he hasn’t been able to set foot in his own country, but he doesn’t feel victimized. HT

That’s very right. I didn’t need to do this. I haven’t committed any crime and I’m not running away from anything. In theory, if I want I can come back to India anytime, but everyone knows that’s not how it works. While I’ve received heartfelt wishes from so many, there are some people who’re against me…and they know why I can’t come back. I’m not a politician or a social activist, I’m an artist. Everything I do is but naturally an artistic statement.

Several government officials issued guarantees of state protection after you announced the conferment of Qatari nationality. Did that make you reconsider your decision at all? Were you contacted by any government official personally?

I haven’t had direct or official correspondence with anyone in the Indian government for the last three years. Two years ago, the home ministry which was then under Shivraj Patil, was even considering prosecuting me under section 295A (of the Indian Penal Code), which deals with outraging religious feelings of a community. It is clear that these guarantees of protection were just made to save face. But I have no complaints. As I said, I’m not an activist. This is a personal decision I’ve taken for my peace of mind.

You seem to imply that this is a cold decision. But your supporters have been very agitated over your supposed victimization. Please comment.

I’m sorry to say this, but this is the media and those with their own interests who’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t feel victimized. I’m really happy with all I have. Yes, it’s sad that things are this way and I haven’t been able to set foot in my own country. But that’s because of a few people and one can’t blame an entire democracy, a great country, for that. I’ve travelled enough to know that India offers great freedom in all spheres. We are a country of living art—go to the villages and small towns and you’ll know what I mean.

You have been criticized about picking Qatar to make this statement. Why pick Qatar as a country to resettle in?

It’s about what I had on offer. I’ve been working here for two years in absolute comfort. The Sheikha here has been very nice to me. So when I was honoured with Qatari nationality, I took it up. Please be very clear that I haven’t resettled anywhere. I have always been splitting my time in different cities. I set up my canvas wherever I find the opportunity. I don’t have a studio anywhere in the world.

What are your closing thoughts on this drama that has played out?

I just want to tell everyone that I’m happy and that is what should matter.

Mint


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