Saturday, June 18, 2011
M.F.Husain:Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna
These are the last pictures I shot of Husainsaab . It was in Dubai 2010, when we met him at his home and he showed off his 'toys' - the magnificent Bentley and the super sexy Bugatti. Strange.... after his Memorial Service in London, as we walked out of the Dorchester Hotel, we noticed several gawking tourists clicking pictures of a stately Rolls Royce Phantom in the driveway. Husain's son, Shafaat offered us a ride in the gorgeous car... and it seemed just so apt! His London driver, who'd been his chauffeur for the past four years,obviously knew his master well... and chatted warmly about him as we drove past Hyde Park and on to the charming Duke's Hotel, where we raised a glass of the finest, to our friend and India's finest artist.
This appeared in Asian Age today....
M.F.Husain: Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna….
My biggest regret is the book that never got written! Husainsaab and I had been discussing it for over a decade. In fact, it had become something of a joke between us – ‘Husain’s Women.’ On the 6th of June, just two days before he galloped off into the great beyond, astride one of his signature stallions, M.F.Husain turned to me as I was saying ‘Goodbye’ and declared, “Let’s do it…I’m ready for the book.”It’s ten days since India’s most iconic painter slipped away in an impersonal hospital room , more than 4,000 miles from where he was born. It was in the pilgrim town of Pandharpur that Maqbool Fida first opened his eyes and saw the world he would later chronicle through his characteristic bold and unhesitant strokes. The same fearless strokes that made him the most controversial artist of his time…. and eventually ostracized him from his own people. Husainsaab died a lonely man, abandoned by nearly everyone, except his family members. When I met him at the Royal Brompton Hospital, barely 36 hours before he passed away, the only person by his side was his youngest son Owais, who had flown in from Dubai the same morning. His other five children were expected. Perhaps he had sensed the end was near. Perhaps not! I’d say ‘Not’. Because if there was one defining quality he possessed it was his never-say-die spirit. Husainsaab was very much a creature of the here-and-now. It was all about the moment – this very moment. And , of course, it was about the many tomorrows… the unending miles he had to travel before he could finally sleep. In all the years I knew him, he never once talked about death. It was too dull and boring a subject! Even that late evening in London, as he gazed out of the large window at the golden light outside, his right eye rheumy, his chest heaving as he cleared the phlegm accumulating rapidly in his lungs, he put on a show… his vanity intact! The minute I entered his room, his hands flew to his snowy white mane , as he ran his bony fingers through the scraggly strands and tried to neaten his appearance. His mind was as restless and fastidious as ever. Someone came in carrying a small parcel from Harrod’s. It was an expensive cashmere pullover for Husainsaab, since he was feeling cold. He took one look at it, felt the texture critically and promptly rejected the sweater, saying he was looking for something softer and finer! Ditto with the food on his tray. He stared disdainfully at the neatly arranged meal and turned away, demanding a falooda instead. It was really the taste of Mumbai he was craving for… and his son knew it. As we discussed ways of flying in a thermos of falooda for Husainsaab, he himself had already moved on to something else…his hand tapping urgently, impatiently on the bed…. his mind wandering to planned projects (his final work is a gigantic Ramayana series) that a lesser being would take another lifetime to accomplish. In his own mind, Husainsaab was immortal. He only spoke about new beginnings, never the end.
But it had to come. And it did. Right after he had said ‘good night’ to his daughter Raisa ( who’d flown in from Mumbai), and told her there was no need for her to stay the night at the hospital… he’d be fine and see her in the morning. Perhaps, it was better this way. He died without any fuss,and the only suffering he experienced was emotional, not physical. Ironically, he told me with great pride that the top docs looking after him in hospital were Indians. He was also totally au courant with all the goings-on back home… because, in a strange way, he had never really left it! We talked about the ‘Paanch Deviyaan’ in politics, and I was sure he had already composed a fresh canvas featuring Mamata, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Sonia and Pratibha. He’d watched and enjoyed ‘Dabbang’ and was looking forward to ‘Ready’. He was aware of the Christie’s auction ( he passed away the same morning) and discussed his painting which would eventually go under the hammer and be acquired by an ardent Husain fan. I asked him what he thought of some of the other artists commanding whopping prices in international markets. People like Subhodh Gupta, for example. He paused ever so briefly and said, “I call them entertainers, not artists!” Touche. It was this outspoken trait of his that had alienated Husainsaab from the Indian artists’ community of late. But much more than that, it was the undisguised jealousy displayed by his contemporaries that puzzled and hurt him deeply. The fact that the very same people he had helped ( monetarily and otherwise) chose to remain silent when he was being persecuted. Or that some of them ran him down behind his back, unable to handle his stupendous success. As his close associates often pointed out, it was Husain who decided to enhance the prestige of contemporary Indian artists in world markets by pitching his own work at what was then considered an unheard of price. Once he’d established a benchmark, all the others benefited as well. But not once did they acknowledge the risk he took before anybody else dared to peg paintings at price levels that were internationally respectable – take it or leave it.
I looked around at the crowd gathered inside a modest mosque at Tooting, an hour away from London. There were a few familiar faces… but only a few. His son Owais led the prayers, as mourners paid their last respects. It was raining outside. Not the gentle London rain, but a full on downpour, Mumbai Monsoon style.Appropriate. The burial was still a few hours away,the plot carefully picked by the family at a leafy spot, just off the road from his favourite drive in the English countryside. A drive he enjoyed thoroughly, reclining like a raja in an imposing Rolls Royce Phantom. He’d set it up in such a way that he could paint watercolours on a fixed easel, as the car cruised along at a stately speed. He’d be listening to Vivaldi or Sufi songs, sometimes humming softly to himself. Perhaps it is just as well he lies in peace there, under a canopy of trees… undisturbed and free at last to create his own, unique images on his own terms.
His memorial service held at the posh Dorchester Hotel, saw the desi elite of London… most of whom owned gigantic Husains to better show off their wealth. Their presence would not have impressed Husainsaab. Amused him, maybe. But just before the service began, a rally of nudist cyclists whizzed past the hotel… now that’s what he’d have called a real tribute!