The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Extreme emotions drive a highly charged creativity. Such emotions often provoke artists to make extreme statements and even to extreme action. One has only to remember Van Gogh and Franz Kafka. Pablo Picasso was notorious for his outrageous comments. Such extremism does not signify the end of the world for even the victims. This is true except when the victims are Bengalis. The painter M.F. Husain recently expressed his assessment of Bengali painters. The octogenerian artist said that except for Ganesh Pyne, Somnath Hore and Bikas Bhattacharjee, all the other Bengali painters lack stamina and are often not creative enough. This has really set the cat among the pigeons and deeply injured Bengali pride and sentiment. Some artists wrote a protest letter to the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, asking him not to inaugurate an exhibition of Husainís paintings. Mr Bhattacharjee did not show up for the inauguration because he was busy with the Union health minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj. Or so goes the official version. Given the controversy, Mr Bhattacharjee would probably have been better advised to inaugurate the exhibition. It would be unfortunate if he allowed Bengali sentiments to influence his decision.

The point involved is a very simple one. Husain expressed his own opinion about his peers. That opinion may or may not be acceptable to many artists and others. This is unavoidable in a democracy, and even perhaps desirable. Husainís criticisms are not enough ground for taking umbrage. Husain did not launch a personal attack on anyone. He made an evaluation, a subjective one, of the work done by Bengali artists. At the same time he paid tribute to three Bengali artists. So, by no reckoning is this a racial slur of any kind. Thus it is difficult to understand what the fuss is all about. Unless, of course, the protesting artists believe that their works are above criticism. One artist expressed his shock at Husainís comments because, he said, Calcutta has always been kind and very friendly towards Husain. Does this mean that because Calcutta has welcomed Husain, he has lost the right to express his opinion about Bengali artists' This is an absurd proposition. At the root of this storm on the easel is the extreme prickliness of most Bengalis to any kind of criticism. The plight of Mr Khushwant Singh, a few years ago when he ventured an opinion on Tagore, will be recalled. The aversion to criticism perhaps reflects an innate anti-democratism. No wonder Bengalis continue to vote to power a party that upholds the dictatorship of the proletariat.

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