Tuesday, March 30, 2010

M.F.Husain - Uncut in Dubai

“ 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???


de bold and debrassy said...

Hey Shobha,

I live in Qatar, and honestly dont know what the fuss is all about. Hussain changing his passport does not change the fact that he is, was and will be an Indian.

That he is considered to be India's oldest artist, is testimony to his healthy lifestyle, because as Indians we have put him through the grinder.
Do I like his work, some I love some I think are okay (but what do i know I am no expert).
I hope to bump into him one day in Qatar


Anonymous said...

Emotions are beyond valuation.

Unknown said...

Must be a Gujju-Tamilian senior journo from TOI who converted you to "Sobhaa"!

Neha said...

Read the article in TOI today. True, India's loss is Qatar's gain! Sad that we cannot fix some lunatics on our soil who claim to be the cultural police!

Hope you had a good time in Dubai. Your picture with Hussain Sahab was nice...the yellow blended well too :)

Radhika Gupta said...

The tree may grow to heights, but the roots still belong to the ground. Hussain will always be an Indian. Its really sad that the kind of respect and appreciation he shud hv got frm us, he's getting from others. But when it comes to love...a person can find love only in his homeland...

डॉ महेश सिन्हा said...

why don't you also apply for dubai or qatar citizenship

Latha said...

I'm sorry Shobhaa, but I could not help laughing at Dr Mahesh Sinha's quip !

डॉ महेश सिन्हा said...

people like latha must be sorry if they have any pride for their nation

The Panorama said...

Good post, Shobha ji. I read the peice on TOI and liked it a lot.

RAJ47 said...

Hi Shobhaa,
why don't you post some pics of such events?
that will make it more interesting read.
why doesn't that oldie paint something of his religion rather than Ramayana?

Anonymous said...

Can you please read this and let me have your views??


Anonymous said...

I am happy that the dirt has been drained!!!

Let him RIP in Qutar..

ekta khetan said...

Phew, quite a long post. Will read and come back in evening. Phew, Mr. MF hussain again? Hmmmm shaam ko dekhte hai.


Another Kiran In NYC said...

Good, can we now send some more annoying people from India to Dubai, now that Head Annoyance Hussain is freeing up some space by his move to Qatar? An aging (for sports anyway) WTA number 92 is already moving to Dubai next month. Who else is annoying... line up, line up!

Oh and all this nostalgia for the walking shoeless on the streets of Mumbai while inhaling Mahim Creek sewer smells... all bunkum yaar. Easy to say when you are wearing just socks in a Bentley! Wily fella that!

And horse racing (especially the big purse races) is just tacky tacky tacky... the world over... Ascot, Churchill downs, HK, Dubai or apna Mumbai Derby (sorry Vivek J... but it is). It is like a really, really bad comic strip in action. Almost as bad as the beer swilling crowd at any Formula 1 or Indy.

Okay now I will put away my snobby ways and go scrub my bathrooms with a wire brush or something to bring me back down to earth!

Good to see fresh blogposts Shobhaa!

Unknown said...


Sidhusaaheb said...

The man certainly has taste, at least as far as cars are concerned.

It might be useful to mention here that the Bugatti referred to here is the Veyron. Auto-buffs would know that when the BBC TopGear team tested it on a track in Germany, the highest speed the vehicle attained was 407 km/hr.

BTW, for 'respecting-their-religion' Hussain-haters, let me, once again, recommend a visit to the Khajuraho temples.

The last time I posted a link to some photos i.e. http://www.shunya.net/Pictures/NorthIndia/Khajuraho/Khajuraho.htm , some one wrote to say that he is not offended by Khajuraho since the sculptors who created the nude images there were Hindus, but he is offended by Hussain's paintings since Hussain is a Muslim. He also mentioned, very helpfully, that he would immediately stop being offended by Hussain's paintings, were the painter to convert to Hinduism! So, apparently, he was not offended by the paintings at all, but only by the painter's religion.

I wonder how others who have mounted an offensive against Hussain would defend Khajuraho and other similar nude depictions, without resorting to such double-standards.

Unknown said...

"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."

What a hypocrite! And what about sensibilities of Hindus, his own countrymen? He did not think of that when he painted nude deities?

sushant joshi said...

arre bhai sidhusaaheb.....the khajuraho sculpts outside the temple are nude....right....nd they are humans...not deities....the hindu and jain deities placed inside the complex are fully clad....
y do u do nothing else but recommend a visit to khajuraho....
the times when then khajuraho were made people might have altogether different sensibilities....how can we dwell upon them so tightly now....get rational yaar...

vivek said...

I would like to place Shobhaa de among the few persons in India who, even if they are living a life of total luxury (or at least a common-man of India would think), to some extent do understand the ground realities of the hardships of Indian people and often write columns about it but I wonder how did she missed the point in the M.F. Hussain’s paintings. Indeed India is a democratic country, India is very liberal to her attackers, in whatever form did they do their mischief, and everyone has the right to express his /her own feelings and many things more. But don't you think that now this 'right' has become a tool to do things wrong. Do these people (M.F. Hussain being the case here) understand what a country is, in first place? No, even I don’t know what a country is but at least I have some idea about my country. Yes, I do become disappointed and at times think; try to figure it out how to give my helping hand to it when I read about how our neighbor hacks our government’s computer networks and few more like this. Many of our brothers and sisters being prestigious IITans may know how to make our network security system invincible but who cares, just run for Microsoft and Google (Oh, I forgot, they have the ‘right’ to do so! Can’t do anything). I hope you yourself being a knowledgeable person might be aware of all this. You have readers, you have audience and you have viewers, you can at least make people think to do something for our country.
So, does this country deserve a debate on M.F. Hussain’s paintings or few works to be done for its all-round development? You often speak an aam-aadmi view (at least that is what I infer from your columns), good ones, but don’t you know that there are still few sentiments in this aam-aadmi which he wants to keep intact always? Vivekananda once said that the women of this country should think of Devi Sita as their ideals. I ask you which ideals of her- the one as we have read in Ramayana or the one as depicted in Hussain sahib’s paintings? Ask this to yourself, but very honestly. This man (M.F. Hussain) has made joke of our one of the greatest religious leaders’ sayings (if not Hinduism).
Alright, forget everything. What he did was just right. Our mythological goddesses deserved this for not being visible whenever India was suffering. Even in that case was it necessary for you, being a responsible person of our country, to make fun of those stupid laymen (I am also being counted) who criticized his paintings and make it an issue? After-all, they also have some rights, but fortunately they don’t have learned readers as you have; the other laymen may have had forgotten their ‘ill talks’ very soon.
If you are sorry for such a great painter that he preferred some other country over India, don’t be, for it was not your choice rather his own, for he had buried his Indian passport in mind long before he surrendered it to Qatar officials.
Don’t cry for this ‘art-drain’ from our country, shed the tears for the brain drain. That would surely do some good for our Motherland.

Anil Kumar said...

That was a knee jerk response to real question of whether the gatekeepers of freedom of expression will take picture of NUDE PROPHET MOHAMMAD CHASING A GOAT and hang it outside their home and office for a month.

vivek said...

Oh really?? But i dont think so, my dear friend. " Vivekananda once said that the women of this country should think of Devi Sita as their ideals. I ask you which ideals of her- the one as we have read in Ramayana or the one as depicted in Hussain sahib’s paintings?" Have you read these lines? And dont you think that the same thing applies for every religion? Just giving a thoughtful expression while discussing matters wont do, you must make your brain work harder.

Unknown said...

Uncut in Dubai?...errr... nopes...am sure he is 'cut' ...lol

pranav said...

very touching blog about Hussain .
Good work!!

Manjiri Kale said...

I saw ur pic with MFH & his lavish car

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