Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'Taliban make only one per cent of Pak population’

London-based artist of Pakistani origin, Mushaal Hussain Mullick stunned one and all by her decision to marry former militant leader Yasin Malik who heads a faction of JKLF, an organisation campaigning for the independence of Kashmir from India. An artist of international repute and a prestigious London School of Economics student, Mushaal has temporarily moved to Kashmir after her marriage. She is currently putting up with her in-laws at Maisuma, a congested locality in the heart of the Srinagar city known only for anti-India protests and clashes. Mushaal says she has given up her lifestyle to adjust “with my brave and fearless husband.”  She says her art has been widely appreciated and accepted both in and outside Pakistan though she calls some areas in Pakistan as ‘black’ where Taliban have a presence. Not interested in politics, Mushaal plans to work for orphans through her art and wishes to put up permanently in Kashmir after finishing her studies, should she get a visa of a longer duration. She talked to Conveyor correspondent M Farooq Shah at her husband’s residence in Maisuma. Excerpts:

You’re being described as ‘girl with a golden brush’. Tell us something about the girl behind the brush?
I come from an intellectual family, my dad was a professor of Economics and my mom was in politics. I learnt a lot from my dad because he always encouraged us to debate on the issues of social and political importance and he wanted our suggestions even at the age of nine or ten. He’d ask us how you’d solve a problem if you’re given a chance and he’d explain the whole situation and then he’d leave it to us. He’d throw different magazines at us like Fortune, Economist and Time and ask us to review some articles on them and give summery on them. So it’s like I come from a background that’s like highly educated. When I was born, my dad took me to the library because he wanted that I should get the germs of a professor’s daughter and I should be absorbed in the library. My mom was very vocal and independent woman and she did a lot of social work. I got that instinct in me through my mom.
I was always fascinated by greenery, scenery and beautiful and stylish women, and I wanted to capture it in some way. I don’t know when I started to paint but I think I was just three or four when I started scribbling on the paper. It is my fascination for everything that is beautiful and that has inspired me to draw.

When did you pick up the first brush? What did you paint and when did it appear to you that you’re beginning to make a mark in this field of art? 
I think that was the age of five or six. I was crazy about painting. I’d lock myself in the art room when I was a small kindergarten class one student.  I’d just not get out of the room and my other classes used to start so my teachers used to push me out of the art room because I was so much into it and I’d start crying. I don’t know what exactly I painted for the first time, may be I just scribbled the first time over but I remember I drew a house and that was like when I was four and a half. I started drawing faces and portraits when I was six.  

You’re a B.Sc. Honours student from the prestigious London School of Economics and a painter as well. Who should you like to be identified with? 
Both. Art is a passion and so is Economics. Economics I think I got in my genes through my dad because he was an economist and I grew up listening about economics, budget sessions, recessions, booms and everything, so by the time I got into economics, I knew lot about it.

You’ve said that your inspiration stems from the ‘raw beauty of the feminine mystique’ and the ‘horrors of abject poverty’. How did it occur to you? 
It was during my O-level exams that I had decided my theme. We were given a free choice to decide if we wanted to concentrate on Leonardo, Rafael or any big artist like Picasso and study them and what kind of impact do they have on our life. I was like why just you need it to an artist when the biggest artist is God. I’m inspired by the creations of God.  I think the greatest artist is God. I just left it that way and that is when I started studying human nature through my paintings and I started making animals. I was more into figure drawing and portraits more than landscapes.

Your works such as a ‘rose that left a thorn behind’ and ‘forgotten love’ have widely been hailed in the West. What do such works explain? 
Such works simply explain the hidden beauty of a woman. Women should not be ashamed of being women that the way they’re suppressed in the world. There’s no harm in a woman being free. So it has to with their freedom also, their freedom of expression. This is may be a way of expressing freedom. My art is not like a dictation to anyone. You’re free to understand it in your way. You can perceive it in a different way and I can perceive my paintings in a different way. In my paintings all woman are beautiful, they’ve all kinds of fears in them and they should get rid of those fears and that’s the kind of opinion I had because they’re the most beautiful creation of God on this earth. Moreover, the works such as the ‘rose that left a thorn behind’ are a subtle reflection of my brother’s poetry. I’m greatly influenced by the Sufi saints like Rumi and artists like Picaso, besides the poetry of Oscar Wilde and the works of Khalil Jibran.

You’ve held several exhibitions all over the world including Pakistan. What has been the response towards your art especially in a conservative society as that of Pakistan? 
The response has been overwhelming, my teachers etc, they were always encouraging me to go ahead in this. I had my first exhibition when I was seven and I won an award then. When you go to see a painting, you go with an open mind. Art is an expression of freedom and if you dictate someone’s art, that’s not art.  I don’t do it for commercial purposes though I’ve sold a few of them.  The rest I’ve done for social work. 

Your works may not seem controversial in the West, but in Pakistan where militants have bombed girls' schools, murdered dancing girls, and destroyed music and video shops, they are simply explosive. Do you think about that while you paint? 
I’m completely liberated when I’m painting and that’s just one percent of the population of Pakistan. Talibanisation is something which has been in some areas of Swat, Balochistan or NWFP but in a very little percent. The people don’t support them. I come from a society which is not that narrow and there’re certain black areas of the society as well but they’ve never harmed me. I don’t like taking dictation from anyone and that’s not the kind of Islam I believe in. I believe in a liberal Islam. I’m not a Taliban or anything else. The Mughuls brought murals and figure drawing to the subcontinent. We brought art to the subcontinent. They were also Muslims, if they were not Talibans. You can’t just limit it to them that that’s what Pakistan is. There’re a lot of good artists there and we’ve a lot of freedom of expression there.

Your decision to marry the Kashmiri militant leader Yasin Malik stunned one and all. How did it happen?
Shaudhary Shujaat who was heading the PML (Q) had invited Kashmir leaders on lunch at Punjab House where I heard his speech. I was there with my mom. I couldn’t see his face at that time because it was crowded, so I could just hear him talk. When he was expressing his views on Kashmir, he said some poetry. That had an impact on me because our politicians there don’t use poetry when they’re talking to public or in a gathering and I felt that this man is emotional and I wanted to meet him after the function. My mom introduced me to him. Because she’s in politics, she invited him to a forum and asked him to discuss his point of view on Kashmir.  But he said that he was on an official tour and instead invited us to his signature campaign exhibition the following week.
The exhibition happened and my mom had a chit-chat with him about Kashmir there and before he was leaving for Kashmir he called up and proposed his intentions on telephone. We chatted on internet and got to know each other. Then my mom saw his mother during the Hajj that year. It took around three years for this whole to happen. Then he met my brother twice in America. So it had to become a family kind of thing because everyone had to be satisfied. 

You’re 23 and Mr Yasin Malik, 43 and on top of it he’s a former militant leader.
Yes I studied about his life and he explained to me that he has a mud house and lives a very simple life. We talked about it because I come from a different background. He said that I’m not going to lie to you and it is not going to be a bed of roses for you. He said it is always going to be full of challenges, I can be arrested and all. So I took my time and I studied. Then I was like his goal is so big that these materialistic things become small and minor. I was like one should go beyond this, so take the challenge.

Was it a difficult choice? 
Yes naturally, it was. I was hesitant in the beginning. It was difficult in the sense that when a man has such a huge challenge, then he has huge enemies as well. It is a controversial life. But there’s a high to it that you’re marrying a very brave man who’s not scared and who’s completely fearless.

While making a decision about Yasin Malik, did it ever occur to you that he would be jailed for ever? 
This is like one day before our engagement he got arrested and he said that he would be arrested for two years. I was aware of everything. I’d been reading about him and I just left it total to God because I respected him and I believed in him that he has a name and I prayed for him. I thought that I could be a good life partner to him. 

Government of India can lay hands on him any time, reopen the cases against him and he could even face a death sentence for his involvement in militancy related incidents? 
Then you pay a price for falling in love. You’ve prove that you’re in love.

Many believe that your marriage with Yasin is politically motivated and that Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies are behind it. 
Totally rubbish. It was a completely personal affair between two families, getting to know each other and then finally deciding of tying the knot. It had no involvement of any political or intelligence agency whatsoever.

You’ve been in the valley for more than a month now. What has been your experience so far? Do you plan to stay put here permanently?

Overwhelming I should say. It’s like countless love, complete awe of the people and the beauty of this place. I’m awestruck.  I’ve been going to different places here. I’m a spiritual person as well and I want to go to such spiritual shrines because it gives me inner satisfaction. He’s (Yasin Malik) the same and we’ve lot in common. We’re like we’d go on a spiritual tour as well.  As for staying put here, I’m studying at the moment. When I’m done with my studies then I’ll decide on this. It’ll also depend on the visa probability. In case I get a longer visa, I’d very much like to stay here.

You belong to a sophisticated family in Pakistan. How have you adjusted in the small, noisy and congested house of Mr Malik? 
I don’t know, even I’m surprised. I’ve adjusted here even more than I’ve adjusted in my own home. I’m so comfortable here. I came with an open mind without any expectations that I’m going to adjust here and I’m going to prove it everyone. I like this guy and it’s my family’s honour and his family’s very loving. I’ve given up my lifestyle to adjust with him. Lot of people had this problem that I won’t be able to adjust here but I’ve. I’m comfortable with their food, their dressing. I wear Phirans all the time; I’m in love with them. I like the noise in the streets, the people crying all over, kissing my hand and feet. They’re literally happy because they’ve not seen happiness in years. That really moved me.

Notwithstanding the rousing welcome that you received here on your arrival, many argue that separatists in Kashmir have chosen to live a lavish lifestyle and your husband, in particular, has been in the eye of a storm since your marriage. The criticism isn’t all together uncalled for, is it? 
He’s living in a mud house and he doesn’t own a small car even. Can anyone explain what kind of a lavish lifestyle he’s leading? I know him; he’s like a gypsy, a jogi kind of person.

Pakistan's stand on Kashmir is that the Indian administered side too should ultimately accede to Pakistan. How do you view that stand?

I think Kashmiris should be involved in the peace process and then they should decide on the table what to do.

Do you plan to contribute to the Kashmir cause in any way say through your art etc?
I’m already contributing, doing my social work. I’ve contribute during the earthquake in Azad Kashmir. I’d like to work here, donate my paintings, and work for the orphans here. I’m, however, not inclined to politics and I’d not like to get involved in any such kind of thing.

The interview appeared in the November issue of the Conveyor magazine.