'I'd like to die like a soldier with the boots on'
Maqbool Fida Husain, India's best known artist, passed away in London in the wee hours of Thursday. Back in November 1997, the world renowned painter, had appeared on rediff chat. In an owerflowing chat room, Husain bared his heart. We reproduce the transcript.
We were nervous. The M F Husain Chat was the first we had scheduled at our new office and we weren't quite sure if the great man would actually turn up. After all, Maqbool Fida is known to pack a bag and zoom off to some faraway destination without a thought.
But a few minutes before eight, the man most Indians consider our greatest painter walked in. Barefoot, of course. And carrying a large brush, like some Oriental sultan bearing a selpuchre. He was everything he's billed to be -- very charming, very modest and a super Chat guest.
Nipuls: Is the bearded wonder there? Give him my regards. He told me once he was planning exhibitions across India. Has he done it yet?
Mr M F Husain: Nipuls: I have been doing that for the last forty years, I have held exhibitions in small towns and big towns.
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'Madhuri is Picasso's Mademoiselle D'Avignon'
Sumi: Mr Husain, there were rumours that you were writing a script for Ms Dixit.. what happened? Has it been shelved because she's no longer giving any hits?
Mr M F Husain: Sumi: I already completed the script; the book titled Gajgamini: Art and Cinema has already been published and there is no question of scrapping the film. Those one or two films that have flopped make no difference because she is one of the greatest actresses the Indian screen has ever seen, and there is no question of the film being shelved, because her current film Dil To Pagal Hai has become such a great success, that it has put her back in the dominating position in Indian cinema.
Sandesa: Ok Mr Husain .. did you see Dil To Pagal Hai?
Mr M F Husain: Sandesa: Yes I have already seen it 5 times and its sheer poetry of song and dance and the way she appears as a highly romantic form is like you see in the impressionistic paintings. She is not the Mona Lisa of the Renaissance, but she is Picasso's Mademoiselle D'Avignon.
'The horses period still continues'
Nipuls: Mr Husain, what is the latest painting you are working on
Mr M F Husain: Nipuls: The latest series of paintings on which I'm working on are the Three Ms -- Mother Teresa, Madhuri Dixit and Madonna. Madonna when she acted as Evita.
Curious: Maqbool Sahab, Please tell us the drive behind your Horses period. Don't leave us all feeling that we got no real answers from you.
Mr M F Husain: Curious: The horses period still continues. It is not like I did the painting and now I am not, it still continues. The horse is a combination of male and female, the front part of the horse is the male which is very aggressive; the back part is like a woman.
So it is like a ArdhNareshwar (Half Man-Woman) the horses are a metaphor for the male and the female and is not depicted as an animal. Besides horses I have painted the Mahabharata, Ramayana and a whole series on Mother Teresa.
Just three years back I did a series on the major nine religions of the world -- Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism etc, and about ten years back I did a series on the British Raj, then I have done a series on major cities -- Calcutta, Benares, Rome and when I went to China, I painted the Chinese city Beijing.
'When people don't understand a new work, they say it is done to create controversy'
Then there was a big mural which is 40 feet high and is called the Portrait of the 20th Century on which all the major personalities of arts, science dance, literature, politics, are depicted. And if you want to know more in detail about my work, my philosophy and personal life, you can visit my own website http://www.mfhusain.com which will be launched next month.
ajit donald: At 82 (Sept 15, 1915), don't you ever want to retire? Will you die with your paint brush in your hand? Does death frighten you?
Mr M F Husain: Ajit Donald: I'd like to die like a soldier with the boots on.
jahanaara Mr. Husain, the media characterises you as someone itching for controversy. Is it true? I don't think it is. What do you say?
Mr M F Husain: Janajaara: I think you don't do work for controversy alone, and whenever you do new work which people don't understand and they say it is done to create controversy. Throughout my life I have experimented and I kept on trying to use so many media and ideas in my work because our horizon is so vast and Indian culture is so rich that I think what we are today, culturally, we have a unique position and I don't think one lifetime is enough to encompass it.
'I painted Saraswati with great respect and conviction'
Jahanaara: Mr Husain, I will like your take on your Saraswati painting. What do you have to say about the controversy it caused?
Mr M F Husain Jahanaara: Since there are a lot of questions on the Saraswati painting this is what I have to say: Saraswati is the goddess of arts and literature and it has been depicted in Indian culture and Indian miniatures in the past in various forms.
The one which I painted was with great respect and conviction, there was no intention except to create an image of Saraswati in the modern language of painting, which some people couldn't understand the nuances of artistic appeal. This was not a painting but a drawing which was done 20 years back and was not meant for exhibition or publication.
Curious: So tell us sir... Did your wife or kids inspire your work? Did your kids take to painting, etc... are they any good?
Mr M F Husain Curious: Of course as they say there is a woman behind every successful man. But I say behind every successful painting there is a woman, and in my case it was my wife. Two of my sons are painters, Shamshad and Owais.
'The art of the coming century will be more dynamic'
Harry: Mr Husain, talking about serious art, where do you think art is headed in the 21st century???? No serious school of thought, even if there is doesn't seem to have make an lasting presence. Brilliance scattered. Talent wasted on trivia.
Mr M F Husain: Harry: It is not like the early times when there were groups of people belonging to the same school thought. The art of the coming century will be more dynamic because people have come to appreciate various forms of art and artistic expressions.
Curious: What about Raisa, Mustafa and Aqueela? I was in school with these kids when we were in Bombay I never believed their father was the great Husain! We'd rarely see you uncle!
Mr M F Husain: Curious: Raisa is here and she is doing fabrics printing and weaving, twice married. Aqueela was Jeddah now in Bombay, a housewife with three children. Mustafa is in Madras making ad films and running a Chinese restaurant.
'Indian paintings are priced much below international standards'
Harry: Besides your children who else do you think have recognisable talent within India and internationally? A few years back if I recollect correctly you had spoken greatly about Mr Ganesh Pyne which was a turning point in there career, has that stopped you from pointing out talent?
Mr M F Husain: Harry: India has produced several young talents Ganesh Pyne was 20 years back but today we have artists like Chitravanu Majumdar and Eliyne Bhomick in Calcutta, among internationally known Ramkumar, Tyeb Mehta, Bal Chhabra, Gaitonde are some of them.
Curious: Sir, There is a talk in art circles that you charge exorbitant rates for your paintings... what is the criterion by which you judge the price of your paintings?
Mr M F Husain: Curious: Normally the pricing of paintings are done by art dealers. In comparison to Western artists's prices Indian paintings are priced much below international standards. Picasso's painting of a cat was recently auctioned in New York with the reserve price of $140 million.
Curious: Are you basically religious, Sir, or an agnostic, or an atheist?
Mr M F Husain: Curious: Here I would like to quote E M Foster "I don't believe in God, Oh God help me in my disbelief."