The nation's artistic fraternity shares its fond memories of M.F. Husain.
IN a rush to present the best coverage on Maqbool Fida Husain on his death, one of the television channels showed an old interview with him done after he accepted Qatari citizenship last year. A rather strident anchor asked him: Are you not coming because of the saffron threats or because you are busy working?
An annoyed Husain shouted out the answer: No one can stop my movement. I can come back to India whenever I want. And I will come back. The anguished and aggrieved Husain was a visibly helpless soul trying to defend his stay abroad and hiding his pain behind his scream. A scream that now almost the whole artistic, film and media fraternity is listening and responding to; something that they should have done when he was alive and when he needed channels of powerful communication to force the government to pay heed to his anguish. He knew he could not come back unless the government gave an assurance to shield him. Many people feel the judiciary could have played a significant role by granting him anticipatory bail so that he could come intermittently and see his country of birth in his old age.
Although he had been in and out of India since 1995, the fact is that after he finally accepted the Qatari citizenship and surrendered the Indian passport he made peace with himself.
Every second person goes and files a case against me in India. I have no time to fight 99 pending cases at this age. I would rather like to invest my energy into creativity, Husain said in a telephonic interview soon after accepting the Qatari citizenship.
Now the artistic, literary and film fraternity is divided over whether the time is right to ponder over the controversy surrounding his exile. If some hold the view that it is time to celebrate his grandeur, others believe this movement should not stop, for it will at least shame those who allowed Husain to leave India at a vulnerable age.
Anjolie Ela Menon, Husain's long-time associate, believes this is not the time to rake up an odious controversy. He is going to live much beyond this. One should talk about his legacy with love. What an irony! The very country which thought that he had insulted Hindu mythology, its gods and goddesses, is the very country for which he was making 100 paintings on the Ramayana. And 100 paintings on Indian civilisation, she says.
This correspondent remembers how at an exhibition of his serigraphs put up by the Mumbai-based Serigraph Studio in Delhi, Husain expressed the wish to live for 100 years. On my 100th birthday, I would like to come out with 100 works on Indian cinema, civilisation and mythology together, he said.
Professor Jyotindra Jain, art historian and musicologist, observes how the wrath of the saffron brigade hounded Husain out of his country of birth. He says, It is a shame that we are now deliberating on issues after his death which we could have deliberated upon earlier. I wonder what Hindu mythology controversy are we debating upon? I have mass-produced popular images of Radha, Krishna and other Hindu deities like Parvati in which the womanly body has been shown in immensely erotic, tactile, sleazy and realistic manner that in no way make them sacred images of worship. If Husain showed a nude Saraswati, what's wrong with that? It was also interpreted as the unhealthy education methods in India of today.
Prof. Jain remembers fondly how he met Husain once at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Husain saab was in his car. As he saw me walking out of the IIC, he got out of the car, came up to me and said, These days I am reading your book on Kalighat paintings. What wonderful artists and what a great book!' I was overwhelmed by his humility. He also signed for me, my wife and my two children separate limited edition serigraph prints and gifted me his photo showing him wearing a black cap and a black beard. I treasure these.
He also moans the fact that the voices of artists are not heard in India because unlike earlier days, artists do not have a common forum or art association now.
Describing Husain as a marathon man with no expiry date, artist Atul Dodiya says his death is a personal shock to him and a fear come true. Although Atul Dodiya never felt influenced by Husain's style because of the different nature of his works, he is enormously impressed with Husain's energy, love for life and charisma. He does not agree that the Indian artistic fraternity does not have a forum. When Husain's works were vandalised in Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad, we artists went on dharnas, led a huge protest and met the Prime Minister. We did everything to support him. Unfortunately, industrialists, corporates, socialites and collectors who sell his works for crores of rupees did not come forward and join us in the protests.
Ameen Sayani, the 82-year-old radio announcer, describes Husain's demise as the painful death of an era. While searching for a house in Mumbai some decades ago, Sayani found an apartment in the same building where Husain lived. This enabled frequent interactions with the great painter. An admirer of Husain, Sayani views the controversy surrounding Husain's painting rather philosophically: There is an old song Dekho ai duniya waalon tum ye kam na karo, Ram ka naam badnaam na karo, which means that in the name of God one should not take liberties of any kind. A man of Husain's stature and fame should have exercised a little restraint while painting nude figures of goddesses. Both the Rig Veda and the Quran state that there is only one God for all, so why fight in the name of religion? Sayani is the proud owner of Husain's signed serigraph prints showing three moods of Indira Gandhi.
Artist Jatin Das, who had a 52-year-long association with Husain, remembers those dinners he had with him at the Nizamuddin Shrine area in Delhi. The Nizamuddin East area and a part of Jungpura were hubs of Delhi's artists. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar and I used to eat kababs, korma and paranthas at Nizamuddin's small hotels.
Jatin Das shared his studio Bhulabhai Institute in Mumbai with Husain and went to the 1971 Paris Biennale with him. So the very mention of the exile controversy bothers him. I am angry; I am depressed that the media, which is interested only in cricket, cinema and politics, did not do enough to push the government to bring Husain back to Indian soil. The artistic fraternity is least bothered about community in the Indian media. Today, many journalists called me up to ask me to name a few artists with whom they could talk about Husain. Is this not shocking in a country that breathes a rich artistic and cultural heritage? They asked me about my views on his portrayal of Sita. I asked them if they had even seen the portrayal they were asking about, and I got a negative response. Now, if this government has any shame left, it should bring his body back and bury it with national honour.
Well-known photographer Ram Rahman reacted from New York: I never believed Husain would die. On his 95th birthday last September, he took me to see Dabanng in Doha. He always treated me like a son. It is a shame on our nation and our political leaders that they could not stand up to the communal forces who tried to defame him and his art and allowed him to be forced into exile. It is a blot which will forever mark our belief that our nation was a bastion of secular democratic values. But the people of India never gave up their love for Husain and his art. All of us in the artists' community know full well that Husain's art is so deeply tied to the deep roots of our cultural traditions that it will stand the test of time. Artistic creation lives through time, and long after the petty politicians who have led the attack on Husain are forgotten even as footnotes in history, his work will continue to beat with the full force of the heartbeat of our people.
Almost everyone in the artistic fraternity has fond memories of Husain. Satish Gujral, who met Husain in 1956 after he came back from Mexico, is deeply pained to hear the news. He says, Some artists leave a style that becomes a legacy, like Ravi Varma and [Abdul Rahman] Chughtai. Husain, by changing the imagery of age-old miniature paintings, created a legacy. He dared to set methods and infuse a vivid new approach. I consider this contribution of Husain as unmatched and the most powerful.
My best memory of him is his first visit to my house, totally unannounced. He entered into a communication by writing in the Urdu alphabet, which was the only means of communication with me due to my hearing problem. Now I will miss his couplets conversation, he says.
Sudip Roy, who is famed for his Charulata series of watercolour paintings, met Husain in Kolkata during a morning walk on Park Street. I went to him and asked, Can I speak to you?' He said affectionately, Why not, let's jog and talk.' At one of the parties, he spotted me and asked me to sit next to him. I sat at a distance, so he pulled me warmly and asked, Why are you scared to sit close to me?' Whenever he came to my show, he made a watercolour work for me. During one of my shows, I was signing autographs for some visitors and Husain saab walked in. All the artists ran to him to take his autograph. It was a rare sight in a fraternity that is often not united, He bound all of us and his death too has brought us all together to speak against the wrong he faced in his own nation.
Some people in the film world will have to come to terms with the fact that a promise Husain made to them will remain unfulfilled. Amrita Rao, for instance, was waiting for Husain to start making a film with her. He had announced after he saw her in Rajshri Production's Vivah that he would like to make a film with her. Initial discussions were held but his 300 works kept him occupied, says a grief-stricken Amrita Rao.
Shreyas Talpade, who proved his artistic calibre with films like Iqbal and more recently Golmaal, was supposed to play a young Husain in a film that was to be made on the artist's life. I was supposed to meet him and talk about his younger days. I was also reading a book on him to do justice to the role. At such a young age, playing a legend is such a privilege but.... Talpade's sorrow is understandable.
The Odissi exponent Sonal Mansingh says Husain once said he would like to make a portrait of her. In the 1980s in Pune, he made a sketch of me in just two-three minutes. It was so stunning that art collector Rahul Bajaj bought it immediately. But I will never be able to get a portrait made by him, she says.
Film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali admits his film Saawariya was an extension of Husain's artistic influence on him, specially his film Gaja Gamini. After watching the film, Husain called Bhansali and congratulated him on his aesthetic sense. He met Madhuri Dixit with me after he saw Devdas. He so honestly told me that he was completely mad about P.C. Barua's Devdas  and that he had seen the film many times over.
Only a few people know that Husain wanted to become an actor, but time and struggle did not permit him and also because he was not conventionally macho for those days' films. After being rejected by a few small-time film-makers, Husain decided to come back to films as a director.
He told this correspondent soon after his much-publicised film Gaja Gamini failed at the box office: I wanted to become an actor. I tried but couldn't succeed. I think God has given me a good face, height and voice, then why film-makers don't see anything in me? Now I have grown old, I can't romance younger heroines, but I direct them for sure. My journey in Mumbai started with my passion to watch films, making Bollywood posters ignited that passion, so I wanted to be a part of the film world to see it from inside.
Husain did not have any regrets that Gaja Gamini did not do well. I had money, I made a film with the actor of my choice and I am happy, he told this correspondent. I wanted to know how the masses like rickshaw pullers and daily wage earners liked my film. So once I took them all to a hall where Gaja Gamini was screened in Mumbai. I paid for their tickets and watched the film with them. Believe me, not even a single person got up in the middle of the film.
After the film was over, I asked how did they like it, they said, Saab samajh mein nahi aayi par phir bhi achchi lagi, ismein bohot sare rang the aur style kuch alag sa tha.' [We couldn't understand but still it looked nice because it was very colourful and had a different style.'] What more could have I asked for?
If this is escapism, so be it. Husain knew how to find happiness for himself. He found it by accepting the Qatari citizenship, too.