“ I have lived my entire life in exile….” M.F. Husain
“ Baba Uncle’’ , as residents of M.F. Husain’s posh apartment complex near the Dubai Creek, call him, is getting ready for his lunch date with a mystery lady at his favourite trysting place, the popular Noodle House in Emirates Towers.He has a tough choice to make – The Bentley or the Bugatti? He opts for the more stately Bentley, even though it is the sleek, low slung, super sexy Bugatti that attracts crowds ( it is one of five in the Middle East, and bears his initials on the headrest). Dressed in traditional Emirati gear, the painter is wearing socks , but no shoes. Mustafa, his handsome third son explains this is to respect local sensibilities regarding bare feet.Even the mighty Maqbool( shoeless for decades) has finally had to compromise and make a few key concessions. He laughs sardonically, “ After watching 3 Idiots, I am proud to call myself an idiot. I am a fool. It is good to be a fool.” The previous night, Dubai’s ruler and his fetching wife, had singled out M.F.Husain at a gathering of over 500 celebrities from across the world who were their to attend Sheikh Mohammed’s spectacular World Cup Race ( and a coming out party of sorts). “ How are you, Sir?” the Sheikh asked the newly minted Qatari citizen. Husain smiled benignly. Dubai’s loss has become Qatar’s trophy. Too bad for Dubai. But Husain insists he was not offered any money to make that move to Doha, no matter what critics believe. What he was given generously and freely by Qatar’s Sheikha Mosa, was space. And the special facilities he requires to go ahead with his ambitious, scaled up projects. “ She just phoned one day and said, “Please come here… I will take care of everything.” Everything was done – home, staff, cars.” The move has not been easy. Husain shrugs philosophically and says that in any case he has lived his entire life in an exile of sorts…. “ I have never really belonged anywhere or to anyone.” But Mustafa said later that the moment his father surrendered his Indian passport was a deeply poignant one for Husain. It felt like one very important era of his long life had ended abruptly and he experienced acute pain. Something was over within him. Husain himself says he felt ‘hurt’. But even that hurt was not enough to ask for favours, not even from Manmohan Singh when they met in London some time ago. What about Sonia? Husain shook his head, “ We have not spoken. Had Indira Gandhi been alive, she would have taken an instant decision to get me back. It would have happened in one minute. She was that bold and dynamic. She wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.”
What Husain misses the most these days is conversation…. someone to talk to… someone with whom he can connect… someone who understands him, his work. He says he misses his old friend Gaitonde the most. “ We would spend hours in total silence and complete understanding. Now there is nobody.Here in Dubai, it is a cultural desert, people come here to make money. They only understand money and more money.There is no appreciation of the arts.” But come September, and even clueless Dubai will see forty of Husain’s magnificent , life size horses galloping across the cityscape. “ My horses are my own. I don’t need to look at other horses ”, he says simply when asked why he wasn’t attending the racing event which features the best race horses on earth. More interestingly, a Russian admirer has commissioned a show in New York later in the year, and Husain has picked the Ramayana as his theme. Twenty gigantic canvases will be on sale, but, he chuckles mischievously, all the female figures will be fully clad this time! Then there is the hundred years of cinema exhibit in London , which consumes him totally, given his passion for films. He is being experimental and adopting mixed media images for the poster-like canvases he is half way through.At present they line the walls of his apartment, which also doubles up as his studio. Where does he sleep in that crowded space? Husain laughs, “Ever since my wife died, I have no bedroom – only a drawing room!” Prolific, productive and more, when he isn’t working on his own pictorial autobiography with stray text dotting the powerfully drawn images, he is on a plane. His summers are spent in London, where he prefers to cruise the English countryside painting water colours from the back seat of his Phantom! “ I am the master of one liners,” he jokes, as he quotes Ghalib, and compares himself to the man who was misunderstood by his peers but revered ever after. Even though there is neither time nor space in his busy life for nostalgia, it is evident from all that he says, that the umbilical chord remains firmly attached to his motherland. He has more money today than he perhaps knows what to do with. Rumours in Dubai have it that he walked into the Bentley showroom, picked a car , wanted it instantly, and paid with a swipe of his credit card. Senior managers rushed out of their cabins to see who this person was, considering even the Sheikhs of Arabia pay via instalments. Husain and EMIs?? Forget it! The Bentley was soon joined by a couple of Jaguars, a Ferrari, another Mercedes, a Rolls, and now the Bugatti ( which can hit 420 kmh in seconds, as his loyal chauffeur Hassan tells gawkers). Husain himself enjoys his new toys and gets a huge kick out of his multi crore gizmos. Ironically, nearly everything in his life is customized and easily available these days – from the awe inspiring sportscars that hit dizzying speeds in micro seconds to the fittings in his palatial new home in Qatar. Everything – but the one thing he longs for – home. One gets the feeling that were he to be given the opportunity to swap all of this, for just a single last chance to come home and walk the streets of Mumbai, stopping to drink chai at his favourite dhaba, he would abandon everything in a second and take the next flight back to India. Like he keeps repeating, it is only ‘mohabbat’ that matters to him now. He wants to gift love freely to the world. It is one original ‘Husain’ which can’t be auctioned for a record- breaking price – not even by the sharpest art dealer.
“ But clearly for M.F. Husain, love means never having to say you’re sorry!!
Guys.... as you can tell, I worked hard in Dubai, even though I was there for a heavy duty 'Leisure and pleasure' luxury weekend, hosted by the ruler himself. He is quite a guy, Sheikh Mo. And I had the pleasure of meeting him at a pre-event banquet on the sands of the Burj Al Arab. More about that in another column.
To say the Sheikh had pulled out all the stops would be an understatement!
But for me, the meeting with my old and precious friend, M.F.Husain, was the real icing on the cake. I was delighted to see him in reasonably good spirits, frail of health, for sure, but the mind is as strong as ever, and the strokes of his brush remain steady and powerful. His unbeatable sense of humour is also intact! But all his wise cracks shall remain strictly off the record.
Who looked the hottest at the super fantabulous World Cup ( which is the world's swishiest horse race and NOT a cricket match, as a senior journo in the Times of India thinks!!!!)? Liz Hurley in a lemon yellow chiffon summer dress, no hat. Ascot is tacky, tacky, tacky, say those who go and those who know. I was there in Dubai for the thoroughbreds .... the ones on the race course, not the comical wannabes in the special boxes, please note. Bet you'd like to know what I wore.... it was an off -white Mukhaish saree that Hurley instantly wanted. The empire strikes back???