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The British Salt Tax. How Damaging?

July 29, 2011 3 comments

British taxes on salt made common table salt into a high-expensive commodity; created shortages which killed millions.

Gandhiji Dandi Salt March (March 12 - April 6, 1930) channeled seething rage on the salt tax into a frenzy. Click for larger image.

Gandhiji Dandi Salt March (March 12 – April 6, 1930) channeled seething rage on the salt tax into a frenzy. Click for larger image.

In 1770 famine hit Bengal. The land revenue had only been sporadically collected by the Mughals, especially in times of difficulty. After the Company took over the Diwani it was fully and ruthlessly collected. In 1969 the crop was poor. In 1770, after six months without rain, the crop almost totally failed. There has never been a failure of crops all over India. Local shortages can always be rectified if there is money to buy in grain. However, following the looting of Bengal by the Company and its employees, money was extremely scarce. The Company had no mercy; it took its dues in full. As people began to die, the amount of land revenue due from the survivors increased. It was so fiercely collected that many had to sell their seed corn. Out of the millions they collected, the Company gave back 90,000 rupees in famine relief — 90,000 rupees for 30,000,000 people.

Meanwhile the Company’s employees and their agents cornered the rice market. They bought up rice in those areas where the crop had not failed, warehoused it under armed guard, and sold to those with the most money. The price of a maund (82 pounds) of rice rose from about 0.4 to 13 rupees. The wealthier Indians exchanged their savings and jewellery for food. The peasants and labourers, who only earned 1 or, at most, 2 rupees a month, perished. Between one-third and one-half of the entire population — at least ten million people — died. The Salt Tax was, of course, still collected by the Company in full on the salt that was consumed. However, many could not afford to buy salt. In any case, the supply of salt was severely disrupted by the death of so many salt workers, bullock cart drivers and boatmen. …

The size of an average family was another point of contention. However, at the lower end of the scale, it is reasonable to assume that a small family, of two adults and three children, needed at least half a maund of salt, 41 pounds a year. Half a maund of salt, in 1788, retailed for 2 rupees or more — two months’ income for many families. The situation continued for many years and agrees with the evidence given to a Parliamentary Select Committee of 1836 by Dr. John Crawfurd of the Bengal Medical Service: ‘I estimate that the cost of salt to the rural labourer, i.e., to the great mass of the people of Bengal, for a family, as being equal to about two months’ wages, i.e., 1/6th of the whole annual earnings.’

(via The Salt Tax – Excerpted from The Great Hedge of India by Roy Moxham, Harper Collins, India 2001).

By the time Gandhiji picked up this peice of salt from the sea-shore, hundreds of thousands had died due to salt-starvation. Click for larger image.

By the time Gandhiji picked up this peice of salt from the sea-shore, hundreds of thousands had died due to salt-starvation. Click for larger image.

The Salt Famine

One more chapter in famines created by British misrule in India.
Roy Moxham’s book traces how extortionate taxes by the British Raj created virtually a salt famine – which also killed hundreds of millions. In today’s world, where salt has become common, easily available and cheap, it is not easily understood how salt imbalances killed many Indians.

The British Raj created a price regime where Indians could not afford to eat salt.

How Tax was Levied

Interestingly, Roy Moxham’s book details how the British tried for 10 years to create a thorny hedge, to prevent smuggling of cheaper salt from bordering kingdoms ruled by Indian kings. Rarely mentioned in history, it was referred to as the The Great Hedge of India or Inland Customs Line.

A customs line was established, which stretched across the whole of India, which in 1869 extended from the Indus to the Mahanadi in Madras, a distance of 2,300 miles; and it was guarded by nearly 12,000 men and petty officers…it consisted principally of an immense impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes, supplemented by stone wall and ditches, across which no human being or beast of burden or vehicle could pass without being subject to detention or search. (Strachey and Strachey 1882, 219-20).

Gandhiji at the Dandi , Gujarat Salt March. Surrounded by adoring crowds, the end of the British Raj came in sight. (Image source - Associated Press File; Courtesy - pressherald.com ).

Gandhiji at the Dandi , Gujarat Salt March. Surrounded by adoring crowds, the end of the British Raj came in sight. (Image source – Associated Press File; Courtesy – pressherald.com ).

Birth of corruption

The Customs Line soon became a Corruption Line. Many small little Clive’s sprouted wings and extorted money for salt and other commodities. This corruption persisted, in a perverse way even encouraged by the Raj, in the other laws – in the money lending regulations, excise, customs, octroi – at every tax point.

Even as India was on the verge of independence from the British Raj, in September 1946, Nehru reminded his party of the “the colossal corruption and nepotism that are rampant everywhere.” In late 1945, Nehru said “Corrupt people have to be swept away by a broomstick,” while campaigning for Congress Party.

But much before this, way back in 1928, then a much-less famous man, wrote

Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes. – Mahatma Gandhi in Young India (1928).

Sarojini Naidu carried forward Dandi Salt March to the Dharsana Salt Works, Gujarat, in May 1930, which was covered by the international press in chilling detail. End of British Raj and the Salt Tax is close to end.  Click for larger image.

Sarojini Naidu carried forward Dandi Salt March to the Dharsana Salt Works, Gujarat, in May 1930, which was covered by the international press in chilling detail. End of British Raj and the Salt Tax is close to end. Click for larger image.


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Desi Nostalgia For British Raj

July 26, 2011 2 comments
The conversation between Indian Swaraj Snake and the British Snake Charmer - Snake: I had hoped for something more congenial from this new instrument. Secretary for India: The Instrument may be new but I don't propose to change the tune just yet. Meanwhile you've got to be charmed with it, wether you like it or not. Note: British cartoon from Punch magazine, featuring British Labour Government as a Snake Charmer, the snake is called Swaraj which was the India Home Rule movement. (Image source and courtesy - collectorsprints.com.).

The conversation between Indian Swaraj Snake and the British Snake Charmer – Snake: I had hoped for something more congenial from this new instrument. Secretary for India: The Instrument may be new but I don’t propose to change the tune just yet. Meanwhile you’ve got to be charmed with it, wether you like it or not. Note: British cartoon from Punch magazine, featuring British Labour Government as a Snake Charmer, the snake is called Swaraj which was the India Home Rule movement. (Image source and courtesy – collectorsprints.com.).

Raj nostalgia among Indians

Many of the old Indian élite miss the British Raj. For its opulence, pomp, show and glitter. Forgetting, that the British Raj was built on groaning famines and grinding poverty.

The numbing atrocities were a bonus from the British Raj.

Raj legacy?

For glorification of the British Raj, Indian railways remains the favorite prop of the Raj elites and loyalists. A recent instance is a post on Indian railways that ends without once using the word British.

The writer Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, in his syndicated column remembers ‘a childhood spent in railway colonies’ when ‘trains were always on time’. This is not a fact and not even fiction.

So, where does Shri Datta-Ray gets his info from?

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray uses ‘instincts’ to illuminate us with his journalistic ‘revelations.’

Dens of iniquity

Indian railway systems of 20th century, during and after the British Raj, became increasingly notorious for accidents, lack of punctuality, high costs; and horribly elitist. This state of affairs continued for about four decades after Independence. It took LB Shastri’s resignation to bring home the fact that the responsibility for these accidents lay at the highest level – and not at at the end of rope.

While Sunanda K. Datta-Ray glorifies colonial railways (cocoons of permit and privilege) modern trains, faster and better, are dismissed as ‘upstarts of the railroad.’ Any which way, there is no satisfying Sunanda K Datta-Ray. He just cannot find anything good in modern India.

At least not in modern Indian railways.

In Britain, governing India was never seen as easy - and an intractable problem. (Churchill on the Problem Indian Elephant, with 'India Problem' across the elephants' forehead. Artist: Leonard Raven-Hill. Published in Punch Magazine - 8 March 1933. Source and courtesy - punchcartoons.com.). Click for source image.

In Britain, governing India was never seen as easy – and an intractable problem. (Churchill on the Problem Indian Elephant, with ‘India Problem’ across the elephants’ forehead. Artist: Leonard Raven-Hill. Published in Punch Magazine – 8 March 1933. Source and courtesy – punchcartoons.com.). Click for source image.

While people like Sunanda K. Datta-Ray were put up at ‘a good restaurant with khansamas in crisply beplumed turbans and gleaming brass medallions’, the paying underclass (like most of us), had to make do with Third Class ‘facilities’ – and treatment.

Dim lights, no fans, windows without safety grill, seats without even a cushion, dirty toilets and floors, corrupt TTEs, obsolete rolling stock, crumbling tracks, malfunctioning signal systems.

All the benefits of the Raj. The works.

Times change

Strangely, Shri Datta-Ray thinks that the removal of the viceregal saloon means ‘trains have been downgraded,’ and it is ‘likely that so have the rails and supporting infrastructure.’ Maybe, Datta-Ray should look up the meaning of non-sequitur.

Viceregal saloons were removed from Indian trains, because the successor to the British Viceroy uses a jet aircraft.

Plus the egalitarian impulse asserting itself. Notice the steady increase in ‘General Compartments’? Add voter-orientation. Instead of catering to an odd full-fare passenger in luxury class, it is more profitable to look after millions of economy class passengers.

Surrounded by servants, positions acquired by loot, power by massacres, the surviving elite pine for the age gone by. (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers, image source and courtesy - allposters.com). Click for source image.

Surrounded by servants, positions acquired by loot, power by massacres, the surviving elite pine for the age gone by. (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers, image source and courtesy – allposters.com). Click for source image.

Clearly, the focus during the British Raj was more on the comforts of the extracting elites, rather than on the economically declining masses. No wonder, ‘the main platform at Howrah used to be ablaze with the movers and shakers of the world.’

Metalosaurus

Railway engines that Sunanda K.Datta-Ray so lovingly talks about, were decrepit steam engines that were left by the British Raj.

Only in India. Iron hulks that clanked and wheezed their way to oblivion. Elephants were used for ‘handshunting’ – as shunting engines were not available. Sometimes humans too. Ramshackle steam engines pulled collapsing bogies, over crumbling bridges, on tracks that needed replacement. All this on trains that were late – and engines of corruption.

Life of leisure, massacre, extortion, servants, luxury, it is not surprising that some are nostalgic for that exploitative past. ((Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy - collectorsprints.com). Click for source image.

Life of leisure, massacre, extortion, servants, luxury, it is not surprising that some are nostalgic for that exploitative past. ((Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy – collectorsprints.com). Click for source image.

Seen from below, the railway underbelly was quite unlike Sunanda’s rose-tinted view from railway colonies.

Losers’ lament

Old elites, shoved aside after undue ceremony, isolate and magnify ‘consequences of mismanagement’ in post-colonial India. Diluting achievements of post-colonial India, the old elites confuse the legacy of ‘a creaking bullock cart packed with diseased and malnourished people’ that modern India inherited from the British Raj. Reluctantly, they admit the reality, of ‘an India trundling to the moon.’

As if the preceding ‘management’ was superior. India’s new élite, powered by voter-pandering and industrial oligarchies, is the current flavor of ‘mismanagement.’ It has overseen India climb out of the hell-hole of British Raj.

Step-by-excruciating-step – an unparalleled feat in world history.

A British magistrate 'surrounded' by 'supplicant' natives. How the British Empire 'brought' civilization to India? (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy - books.google.com). Click for source publication.

A British magistrate ‘surrounded’ by ‘supplicant’ natives. How the British Empire ‘brought’ civilization to India? (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy – books.google.com). Click for source publication.

Old vs New

The earlier ‘management’, made-up of British overlords and Indian ‘sepoys’, releases a steady drip of deprecatory commentary. Now stripped of privilege, preferences, privacies, built at the expense of cornered and huddled Indian masses, the Indo-British élite has seen itself decline into obscurity and inconsequential.

Left to maunder over their decline, the discarded élite fall back on evaporating nostalgia, using  a ‘manufactured’ past, for running down a ‘better’ India. Taking aim at present pock-marked India, against a ‘doomsday’ tomorrow is always an easy shot.

As Hindu, Muslim and Sikh tigers tore each other, departing British rulers hoped that they will be called back soon - as 'Only The British' could 'rule' over India. (The Rope Trick. Artist: Leslie Illingworth. Published in Punch Magazine - 28 May 1947; Source and courtesy - punchcartoons.com). Click for image source.

As Hindu, Muslim and Sikh tigers tore each other, departing British rulers hoped that they will be called back soon – as ‘Only The British’ could ‘rule’ over India. (The Rope Trick. Artist: Leslie Illingworth. Published in Punch Magazine – 28 May 1947; Source and courtesy – punchcartoons.com). Click for image source.

Especially compared to the horrors of the British Raj.

All about Oil

At the root of US-Iran rivalry, is the question of who will supply oil and gas to India and China.

Big Oil has the eyes, ears, mind, actions of the world's ruling elite - also in India. (Cartoon by : David Horsey of Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Cartoon courtesy - usj.com. ). Click for larger image.

Big Oil has the eyes, ears, mind, actions of the world’s ruling elite – also in India. (Cartoon by : David Horsey of Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Cartoon courtesy – usj.com. ). Click for larger image.

Big oil

Significant part of global politics in the last 10-15 years has been dictated by three developments. One – Oil reserves in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. Two – Stagnant oil consumption by the West. Three – Rising oil consumption by India and China. For instance US oil consumption between 1973-2010 has grown from 17 mpd to 19 mpd – with some consumption peaks and demand  collapses.

US-Iran clash

Iran is a rival to Big Oil companies of the US and West, as a supplier of oil and gas to India. Iran can easily and cheaply transport oil from its own oil fields – as well as Central Asian production. Iran can thus completely cut out US and its oil companies from the future of oil business with India and China. Hence, the US-Iran rivalry. The Oil-Dollar Tango on which the US Economy is based for the last 30-40 years, also supports Big Oil.

US would like overland oil from Central Asia to come to India and China through Pakistan and Afghanistan – which are US client states. With this the US can cut out Iran – completely. Pakistan and Afghanistan become key gateways for oil to India and China. Hence, the power struggle in Pakistan between Army, Taliban, and the Pakistani politicians.

China's rising oil imports is supporting high oil prices. (Graphic source and courtesy - bbc.co.uk). Click for larger image.

China’s rising oil imports is supporting high oil prices. (Graphic source and courtesy – bbc.co.uk). Click for larger image.

India-Pakistan story

What will be US role, if India and Pakistan were to sit down and resolve their issues. India-Pakistan troubles in the recent past, must be seen in this light, too.

India is negotiating with a Central Asian-US Big Oil Consortium to bring gas via Afghanistan and Pakistan to India – dubbed as the TAPI pipeline. It is also in discussion with Iran and Pakistan to bring gas from Iran to India via Pakistan – commonly known as IPI pipeline.

India’s choice between IPI-TAPI is crucial – and will take another 5-10 years to resolve. In the meantime, Iran’ has an interesting point of view.

The Iranian diplomat reposed faith in the “rationality” of the Indian leadership (and it) would take the “best decision” to meet the energy needs of (an) economy aspiring to be the world’s second largest. He drew attention to Iranian export options of China and Europe other than India.

“India has to decide how to meet its energy needs. Use of nuclear energy has become questionable after the earthquake in Japan. The demand for fossil energy is bound to increase with long term nuclear power projects on hold in Europe,” sources explained.

Security was a major Indian concern — besides pricing — in the talks on the pipeline that would have been laid across the lawless Balochistan where Islamabad’s writ is non-existent in vast stretches controlled by local tribes.

If (security was a major Indian concern) then how was New Delhi in talks on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, they asked. “The (security) concerns that exist about IPI exist with TAPI in which case the source of (gas) supply is also dubious,” they averred.

Bagheri attributed the spread of terrorism in the region to the presence of Nato and US troops. “Countries like US are at the root of terrorism in the region. They first created the terrorist groups and have come to the region now on the pretext of fighting them,” he said. “Terrorism has increased since their arrival.”

He cited UN figures to claim that narcotics production went up four times and was the maximum in areas under the control of British troops in Afghanistan. (via Iran gives up on India, pursues gas pipeline with Pak – Hindustan Times).

What is New Delhi’s strategy in all this. Partly, it is increasing oil production within India. Secondly, is increasing the share of nuclear energy. Third is imports.

As usual, tough choices ahead.

Oil reserves across the world. (Graphic source and courtesy - indiadaily.org). Click for larger image.

Oil reserves across the world. (Graphic source and courtesy – indiadaily.org). Click for larger image.


MF Husain was Hindu

July 3, 2011 3 comments
M. F. Hussain gets Qatar nationality announces the editor of Hindu - N. Ram (Image courtesy - hindu.com). Click for larger image

M. F. Hussain gets Qatar nationality announces the editor of Hindu - N. Ram (Image courtesy - hindu.com). Click for larger image

Says Pritish Nandy

Maqbool Fida Hussain never said ‘I am a ‘Hindu”. Yet, Pritish Nandy insists on claiming Hussain for ‘Hinduism’. But then, Pritish Nandy for one is not a ‘Hindu’ – in mind, spirit or thought.

Not, if he cannot understand, that what Pritish Nandy calls ‘Hinduism’ does not require everyone to go by One book, belong to One Faith, worship One god or believe in any One thing. ‘Hinduism’ would have been absolutely comfortable with MF Hussain being a Muslim. And everyone includes Maqbool Fida Hussain also.

‘Hinduism’ does not believe or accept that it  is ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to any other body of belief. The only one thing that ‘Hinduism’ does not accept is अधर्म adharma. Injustice to any man.

Everything else goes.

‘Hinduism’ is public property

At this point here, Farrukh Dhondy joins the debate. Dhondy implies ‘Hinduism’ is public property. MF Hussain has a perfect right to do whatever he wants with ‘Hinduism’ – believes our Mr.Dhondy.

When Mother Teresa became an object of media-adulation, Hussain turned to Moter Teresa. (Image courtesy - indiatimes.com.) Click for larger image.

When Mother Teresa became an object of media-adulation, Hussain turned to Moter Teresa. (Image courtesy - indiatimes.com.) Click for larger image.

The Hindus don’t have a single book and certainly not one that sanctions attacks for depicting one or the other goddess and using an imaginary or live model’s form and features to do it. Those who hounded MF were barking up the wrong walking stick.

It has happened before. Raja Ravi Verma was castigated, mobbed and prosecuted for using his mistress as a model for paintings of Hindu goddesses and heroines from the epics. Ketan Mehta’s film may shed some light on how and why a notion of heresy invaded the beliefs of Hinduism.  Hinduism, should be free from such an idea.

The demolition of the temple of Somnath may be seen as insults and affronts to the communities that built them and worshipped there but not in any sense is it heresy. Breaking icons is certainly insulting. But surely MF Husain was making them? (via Indian idol maker – Hindustan Times; parts excised for brevity).

Logically, Dhondy must understand that all idol-breaking or form-distortion can happen only at ‘Hindu’ sufferance – or tolerance, if you wish. ‘Hindu’ intellectual capital is available – at no cost.

To subscribers only.

23-May After Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal assembly elections, MF Hussain sent a sketch to Hindustan Times. (Image courtesy - hindustantimes.com). Click for larger image.

23-May After Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal assembly elections, MF Hussain sent a sketch to Hindustan Times. (Image courtesy - hindustantimes.com). Click for larger image.

No ‘free’ lunch at ‘Hindu’ expense

I don’t subscribe to FT.com. I don’t talk-up, talk-down, talk-about FT.com. FT.com does not want me. Separate ways. Good for both of us.

Same thing with ‘Hinduism’, I thought.

Without being a subscriber to ‘Hinduism’, others can use, accept ‘Hindu’ ideas, concepts, standards, clearly at ‘Hindu’ sufferance. Especially if an ‘artist’ wishes to make commercial profit by using ‘Hindu’ capital. Maqbool Fida Hussain wants to combine ‘Hindu’ sufferance, (or tolerance, maybe broad-mindedness), with Islāmic sensitivity (blasphemy, no idols and portraits), for his personal gain.

Hussain painted freely and frankly – nude goddesses, dark monks, rib-lined horses, elephants playing veenas, nations in distress – in canvases executed with style and showmanship, spreading artistic excitement across society.

But never an Islāmic theme – unless you want to count Meenaxi as an Islāmic theme! Why?

Now, Maqbool Fida Hussain used and adopted Islāmic standards, when it came to Islām. He should have stayed with Islāmic standards. Don’t portray any gods and goddesses.

MF Hussain sketches Madhuri Dixit from the film - Dil to Pagal Hai.

MF Hussain sketches Madhuri Dixit from the film - Dil to Pagal Hai.

Even Maqbool Fida Hussain cannot be chalk and cheese.

Everything to everyone

Maqbool Fida Hussain rode on the coat tails of  every media-star to gain publicity for himself. Vijay Tendulkar to Madhuri Dixit, Anushka Sharma to Mother Teresa. From Prabhu Deva to MS Subbalakshmi. He quickly made out a silly painting of Mamta Banerji’s election victory in Bengal – to keep himself in media-focus.

Maqbool Fida Hussain has always blown in whichever direction, the wind blows. He tried to be an admirer of playwright Tendulkar (and Sakharam Binder) when Vijay Tendulkar was bigger than Sachin Tendulkar – and supported Indira Gandhi’s Emergency when she was in power. Nandyभाई, Maqbool Fida Hussain cannot be ‘Hindu’ in spirit – and admire Mother Teresa’s blatant superior ‘Christian conversion’ therapy for  inferior ‘Hindus’.

Year - 2006; Bharatmata (Mother India) as a nude woman displayed at an exhibition by Nafisa Ali - an actress-turned-social-worker. (Image courtesy - indiatimes.com). Click for larger image.

Year - 2006; Bharatmata (Mother India) as a nude woman displayed at an exhibition by Nafisa Ali - an actress-turned-social-worker. (Image courtesy - indiatimes.com). Click for larger image.

Did I miss MF Hussain standing up for artistic freedom of the Prophet Mohammed cartoonist – or oppose Sarkozy’s hijab ban? Not a word in support of Salman Rushdie? Or why his ‘voluntary’ restraint from subjects that Islam forbids – which was Maqbool Fida Hussain’s own religion?

Did I see a single painting by Maqbool Fida Hussain on Muslim themes – maybe a Battle of Karbala, or Prophet Mohammed’s return to Mecca? Why is it that he wanted all his ‘freedom’ to caricature भारत माता Bharat-mata (Mother India) and ‘teen-deviyaan’?

In India, against ‘Hindus’?

In Qatar he found freedom

Maqbool Fida Hussain, in the same breath, cannot admire भारत माता Bharat-mata, take Qatari citizenship, and in death prefer to be buried in London (actually just outside London). By these actions, Maqbool Fida Hussain proved that all his claims of ‘artistic’ integrity and ‘artistic’ freedom were that much hot air. India lost nothing. It was for Maqbool Fida Hussian to decide if he was losing anything, by going away from भारत माता Bharat-mata.

Maqbool Fida Hussain choice of Qatar as his new country of residence, would not have given him more freedom. Qatar (pop. 3,00,000 lakhs approx.) is slightly larger than Maqbool Fida Hussain’s hometown of Pandharpur (pop. 1,00,000 approx.) but has a GDP which is 10% of India’s GDP – anchored to oil earnings. Did he raise his voice against Qatar’s support to Saudi Arabian troops sent to crush dissent in Bahrain? Or against the forced deportation by Qatar, of Libyan dissident, Eman al-Obeidi – back to Benghazi, Libya?

Picasso’s Art & Practices

Picasso’s (1881-1973) greatest skill was in his self publicity and the way the prices for his paintings were managed. This publicity and price manipulation operation was initially managed by promoters like André Level of the La Peau de l’Ours Art Club (Skin of the Bear group) – for a 20% cut to the artist. Picasso dealt with a number of agents initially – but mainly, Clovis Sagot, Ambroise Vollard, Wilhelm Uhde and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Later this promotions were managed by Picasso himself and Paul Rosenberg, his chief agent and a close cabal of people who used media effectively. First among 20th century artists, ‘Picasso was a gifted self-publicist who knew the rules of media manipulation. He openly encouraged a few hand-picked photographers to inhabit the house and studio.’

Family of Saltimbanques |  Pablo Picasso  |  1905 |  Chester Dale Collection 1963.10.190   | Image courtesy - Copyright © 2011 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC  | Click for larger image.

Family of Saltimbanques | Pablo Picasso | 1905 | Chester Dale Collection 1963.10.190 | Image courtesy - Copyright © 2011 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC | Click for larger image.

He fairly flattened journalists by the display of his wealth and connections. Nearly forty years later, Christian Zervos, an art historian and writer, recalls Picasso’s wealth, kept in the vaults of Banque de France. After the Great Depression, when many great fortunes in Europe and USA, had been wiped out, Picassos wealth was in ‘packages, piled one atop another to the height, say, of Picasso . . . And do you know what there was inside? Banknotes! Yes, sir, banknotes, the largest denomination that existed in France then, which was enormous.’

Picasso was an ‘extremely rich and famous man who came pretty near to doing whatever he wanted. The Picasso of the 1920s could charm the king of Spain, mesmerise Proust, shrug off Hemingway. He was news wherever he appeared.’ He could switch between various styles – and painted in ‘Neoclassical styles’ to attract “the patronage of aristocratic circles he encountered through his friendships with two impresarios, the poet Jean Cocteau and Eugenia Errazuriz, a woman of great taste and social prestige.’

Not above making compromises between cubism and surrealism, as his buyers and patrons wanted, he rarely gave press conferences. Instead he plied impresarios, journalists with his socializing, and with his ‘uncanny party trick of drawing a portrait upside-down while sitting opposite its subject so that, as the drawing unfolded, it would appear right-side-up to his inevitably amused subject.’ Hundreds of these Picasso drawings and sketches are scattered across Europe and USA, which he gave way for free.

Femme aux cheveux jaunes, December 1931 | From the Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society, New York/Gagosian Gallery | Image courtesy - online.wsj.com | Click for larger image.

Femme aux cheveux jaunes, December 1931 | From the Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society, New York/Gagosian Gallery | Image courtesy - online.wsj.com | Click for larger image.

In this he was ably assisted by the presence of his ballerina wife, Olga Khokhlova, a pretty ballerina from St Petersburg, with Diaghlieff’s ballet company, and his agent Paul Rosenberg.

Paul Rosenburg (also an agent of Georges Braque and Henri Matisse) left behind a huge fortune in paintings. Even after losing a vast number of these paintings to the Nazis. Through his son, Alexandre, Paul Rosenberg is the grandfather-in-law of one-time IMF chief, Dominique Strauss Kahn. Picasso’s other significant agents were Ambroise Vollard, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Leonce Rosenberg, and Georges Wildenstein.

Picasso’s mistress of eight years, Marie-Thérèse Walter (who he met at a Paris Metro station) and his wife were also the subject of his many paintings. In recent times, Picasso has even been compared to Princess Diana for his self-publicity. The many women in Picasso’s life added a patina of glamour that many of his competitors lacked.

The French artist Fernande Olivier, as model and muse, bridged Picasso’s Rose Period to Cubism. Miss Khokhlova, in the 1920s, stirred his return to Neo-classicism. The photographer Dora Maar documented and inspired Picasso’s involvement with the Spanish Civil War, including “Guernica” (1937). And the painter and author Françoise Gilot was his chief consort during his postwar period. From 1953 until Picasso’s death, at age 92 in 1973, Jacqueline Roque attended the artist during his ferocious, erotic and peace-loving late phase, in which “Hippie” Picasso, anticipating 1980s Neo-Expressionism, reimagined the Old Masters.

Now, as for paying off the critics, do it. Yes, as much as some critics pretend to not be on the take, they are — in some way or another. The best art critics accepted gifts: Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg. Artists frequently offer me a gift after I’ve written them up. I just take it. I feel I’d insult them or be condescending and inhuman if I said something like, “It’s my policy not to accept gifts.” Lighten up. We’re all in the family.

So be generous in giving gifts, but beware of the greedy opportunists who expect a gift without having the intention of reciprocating, like people attending your openings who ask for a “quick sketch” instead of just an autograph. If you do one, they’ll all line up expecting a freebie. With other artists, it’s best to do straightforward trades instead of gifts. And with friends outside the art world, wait for their birthday or Christmas. (via artnet.com Magazine Features – Ask Mark Kostabi).

Leave alone Prophet Mohammed’s portrait, could he have done a Battle of Karbala painting in Qatar?

Money made him contemptuous of India – and Indians

Maqbool Fida Hussain’s disregard of Indian judicial norms antagonized the courts. His refusal to acknowledge his ‘unwarranted’ liberties with ‘Hinduism’, precipitated matters. A simple statement that he will ‘explore’ ‘Hindu’ themes within norms would have been enough. His arrogant and rough shod dismissal of ‘Hindu’ sentiment, gave an opening to right-wing ‘Hindu’ sentiment.

No double-standards. The simple point that the ‘Hindu’ Brigade wanted. Usually this hunting with hounds and running with hares is called hypocrisy.

Though no one ever accused MF Hussain of being a hypocrite.

Gobbling publicity like Pac-man

Maqbool Fida Hussain never evolved from being a hoardings painter. Except when it came to publicity. His dual standards, his blatant contradictions would have easily made him an object of ridicule. Instead he managed respect and consideration. To manage this amount of media attention, Government attention – even international attention, surely, is some evolution. For one single man.

Maqbool Fida Hussain was finally a gargantuan machine that consumed huge amounts of media attention. His ‘artistic’ talents were surely hugely surpassed by his media management. This publicity and MF Hussain strutting his commercial exploitation of ‘Hindu’ constructs provoked the ‘Hindu’ Brigade’s backlash. His cars, or the striptease that he organized on his birthday (some 25 years ago), reeked of ostentation. Private displays of wealth in India will not arouse reaction. But such ceaseless publicity-seeking …

No wonder people called him India’s Picasso.

Reaction on Ground Zero

Indian Muslims have ignored this issue of ‘artistic freedom’ for ‘Muslims’ at ‘Hindu’ expense. But Indian liberal-progressives, steeped in Western polity, see confrontation and conflict as the answer to such ‘artistic’ restrictions.

Negotiated ‘freedom’ as in भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra, is seen as a cop-out.

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