Love of Indian mother :Deities find home in Pakistan painter's museum

Lahore, July 12: 62-year-old Hussain instals idols from destroyed shrines in Lahore's red light district where his mother, a Hindu who once lived in Patiala and Malerkotla towns in Indian Punjab, worked as a sex worker after Partition.
Hussain grew up in Heera Mandi - the red light district of the walled city - where his mother was a tawaif (courtesan). But he never denies that background. Interestingly, Hussain's mother Nawab Begum was of Indian origin. She was originally a Hindu who once lived in Patiala and Malerkotla towns in Indian Punjab. She lived in Dharampura area of Lahore, and was later forced to work as a tawaif.
As India and Pakistan embark on yet another journey for building bridges despite the nauseating rants of extremists in the turbulent Islamic country, 62-year-old Hussain exemplifies how religion can never stand in the way of one's love for art. And he is manifesting it pretty well. Flanked by Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort, Hussain's restaurant Cuckoo's Den is famous for its tawa chicken, mutton chops and naans. But besides the gastronomic delights, the restaurant - which he runs with wife Silwat and six children - is famous for his collection of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist idols. Not surprisingly, it attracts visitors from across the world, including India. The list of Indian visitors to Hussain's establishment includes BJP veteran LK Advani, film director Mahesh Bhatt, actors Naseeruddin Shah and Malaika Arora Khan, and singer Hariharan.
For the past 25 years, Hussain has been collecting these idols from decrepit temples and other religious precincts in Lahore; he even bought several idols from the locals. He often sources idols from the temples ravaged following the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.
After that landmark incident, fundamentalists in Pakistan retaliated by destroying over 300 temples across the Islamic country, where idol worship is prohibited. Lahore's famous Bhairon, Jain, Durga and Shiva temples were ransacked by an unforgiving mob.
The idols were broken into pieces, and the temples' lands were usurped. So, collecting these idols has never been an easy task for the artist: Hussain often faces threats from extremists, something not uncommon in a volatile country such as Pakistan. "The idols are beautiful specimens of art and culture. I am a collector and I love art. My hobby had irritated some people in the past and I faced threats to my life. But, in the end, art must survive - art is art, and it's my life," Hussain told Mail Today over phone from Lahore.
Therefore, Hussain paints the women of Heera Mandi with elan. They come across as humans in flesh and blood, with pain and laughter, smile and tears. In his works, Hussain breaks away from the cliches that are associated with such women. Most of Hussain's paintings - nearly 500 to date -- have become top-rated artworks which sell in the range of Rs 10-15 lakh apiece. These paintings depict the whole gamut of narratives about women who are central to Heera Mandi.
Source: Agencies



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