MF Husain, R.I.P.

This week has seen the passing of one of the world’s most legendary artists — a painter who was as celebrated and vilified in India as he was unknown in America.  His name was MF Husain (also spelled Hussain).

Husain, who often was called “India’s Picasso,” was a highly controversial figure.  He was an artist who did not shy away from the public or from political or religious themes in his paintings.  Indeed, Husain’s representations of Hindu deities in certain paintings got him into trouble in India, causing his home to be vandalized and eventually leading him to leave India and live in the Middle East.  He died in London.

Husain’s artwork is quite interesting, although it is not well known in the United States.  His most controversial painting apparently was Mother India, which I have posted with this piece and which shows a naked woman on a map of India.  Conservative Hindus were outraged by the piece and brought lawsuits against Husain for obscenity and sacrilege; the India Supreme Court eventually upheld dismissal of several of the cases because in India there is a deep-rooted tradition of sexual iconography and portraying nudity in artistic work.  Imagine, bringing an obscenity and sacrilege lawsuit based on a painting!

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California DREAMing

You have to give the California state government some serious credit for apparently being completely divorced from fiscal realities.

The Golden State is facing a crushing, multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall — so much so that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered state departments to turn in their cell phones and BlackBerrys — and yet the state is getting ready to pass the California DREAM Act, one part of which makes public tuition assistance funds available to “undocumented immigrant students.”  The bill has passed the Assembly, seems certain to pass the Senate, and Governor Brown has said he will sign it.  The availability of tuition assistance comes on top of the fact that California allows the “undocumented immigrant students” to pay tuition at California state colleges at in-state levels, which are significantly lower that the tuition charged to out-of-state students.

I have nothing against immigrants — to borrow the linked editorial’s deft phrase, “illegal or otherwise” — but doesn’t it seem like fiscal nuttiness for a state that is billions of dollars in debt to be extending new benefits to anyone, much less to illegal immigrants?  With this kind of responsible management of the public purse, is it any wonder how California got into its current predicament?

 

The Normal Rules Do Not Apply — Until They Do

We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes  and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder:  How could they be so reckless and brazen?

I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time.  Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors.  People arrange their meals and social functions for them.  They really don’t need to carry cash anymore.  They get chauffered to events in limousines.  When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately.  They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by.  Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people?  They live lives that are different from normal people.  And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue.  The missed tests get retaken.  The tickets are torn up.  The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival.  Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.

But then, at some point, a line gets crossed.  The police get called.  A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public.  A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.  And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore.  Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.

I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.