Husain's last wish was to return to India
The last I spoke to M F Husain, the grand daddy of Indian art, he was in a jovial mood. One could never get in touch with him easily. Every time I had difficulty in getting him on line, I would call my friend Munna Javeri, a close friend of Husain's for many years.
Munna would give me several numbers, mostly hotel or residence numbers of friends where Husain was likely to be during the appointed time. My interview with rediff.com mostly on Anushka Sharma, his new muse happened in parts because Husain just wasn't free. "I have a guest, can you hold for a second?" he asked me during our truncated conversation and the phone disconnected.
After patiently waiting for half hour, I telephoned him back. This time, he spoke extensively, often shifting to deeper subjects of art which a lay reader may have found ungraspable. In between, he forgot an Urdu verse he intended to quote and asked me to wait while he went and searched for a book or perhaps his diary (I am assuming) where he must have noted the verse down. Having lost the line again, I called him back and we had another long chat.
Image: M F Husain at work during a one-day India-Pakistan game in Karachi
Photographs: Zahid Hussein/Reuters
People kept saying he's obsessed about Bollywood
Absolutely, he enjoyed being written about. He loved receiving people, he basked in the fame that his celebrityhood brought him. He was prolific, painted every single hour of his life since he began as a painter of cinema posters and hoardings (reminding one of Lautrec, of course, the French master who painted Moulin Rouge posters).
Image: M F Husain
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
Post the fundamentalist outrage, he became a punching bag of sorts
Those who didn't understand art questioned his credibility as a painter, those with no inkling of the processes of art said Husain hasn't the faintest of what he paints, his subject matter, his tone and tenure.
But then, it has been said of Picasso before; anything that was cryptic, difficult-to-understand, naysayers ran him down saying, "That's pure Picasso." It was often meant as a mocking statement than a tribute.
Image: M F Husain at a restaurant in Ahmedabad
Photographs: Mayur Bhatt/ Saab Press
'I am a lover of beauty'
Sure, Husain did look up to Picasso, integrated his techniques into his work but if you look at the art of Picasso himself, it borrowed heavily from artists ranging from Delacroix to Velasquez and Goya, his fellow Spaniards. Would that make Picasso any lesser of an artist?
To Husain, art was everything which is why when anyone says to you he painted for fame, don't believe it. For, art meant beauty to the 95-year-old artist. He did want to return to India, it reflected in his voice. Because he found India the most beautiful land in the world. For an artist, roots are home and home is a worthy equivalent of beauty. "An artist can never exhaust his search for beauty. I am a lover of beauty. I find beauty in everything around me," he said.
He died without fulfilling his last wish: to come back home one last time, to feel India, his home and smell its beauty.
Image: The master at work
Photographs: Rediff Archive