Pablo Picasso, known as the master of Cubism, was born and had died in his native country, France. The world knows him as the master who created Guernica, the most celebrated painting with an anti-war message. He had loved his own country, which in turn made him its cultural icon. Guernica is regarded as one of the most famous paintings of the world. But Picasso’s reputation does not merely rest on his artistic oeuvre, voluminous by any standard, alone. He had had his innumerable affairs and in almost all of them, the women concerned turned out to be his muse for that ‘period’.
Maqbool Fida Husain is still called ‘The Picasso of Modern India’. Yes still. Even after India, his erstwhile native country, had shunned him and he had to give away his citizenship and adopt a Qatari citizenship during the latter half of his life. Shame on the Indians! Wasn’t he the only Indian painter who had fetched crores of rupees at foreign international auction houses?
His distinct style of painting marks him as a cult figure in modern Indian art. That he also made films was another feather added to his already flourishing capers. Yet he was a most humble man in personal life. Always bare-footed and sporting a cane, his white beard and glasses became his signature style. No one can possibly replace Husain in the art scene. He had made a then-reigning queen of Bollywood as his later muse. He had painted her umpteen number of times, always signing off with the word –‘Fida’. His film ‘Gajagamini’ would forever remain etched out in the viewers’ minds for its colourful imagery, pun and Husain’s characteristic caustic humour.
All Calcuttans, oops Kolkatans, would be able to recall the incident where a reputed hospitality club had refused him entry. Why? The reason was that Husain was barefooted and the dress code for entry there required proper formal shoes. The tradition is followed to the tee even to this day. Colonial rulers have left us ages ago. But their legacies are as warm as if they had left the country just the other day. Husain was also fond of visiting the Azad Hind Dhaba, located at Ballygunge, and having a cup of their ‘masala chai’, dipping a ‘chapati’ in it. It is not me who has borne witness to these momentous situations. But thanks to the print media and their loyalists, they have been etched in human memory like Newton’s law or, perhaps, like a chemical equation.
In 2015, i.e. last year, the world celebrated hundred years of Husain magic. Such is the timelessness of art. The artist dies, but his art remains as a treasure trove for us, the followers of the Indian tradition. But are we really Indians at heart? Think about it. How could we deprive this illustrious man who had made his motherland proud, of his rightful citizenship? Just because he had painted a Hindu deity, using his own creative and artistic licence? Husain’s paintings are tales in themselves. His brushstrokes speak of his finesse and expertise in his chosen craft.
The first documentary Husain had made, remain evergreen in my memory till this day. I had seen it many years ago. ‘Through The Eyes of A Painter’ can be called an extended masterpiece conceived and completed in the cinematic language. It has been made in stark black and white and remains to this day as a huge referential guide for those attempting to master the medium itself. Husain’s third and last film, ‘Meenaxi’ – also had a diva of Bollywood as its centripetal foci.
Maqbool Fida Husain is no more. He had left the country with a leaden and broken heart. He has left behind a largesse which will be savoured for generations who care about Indian art. His paintings were mainly figurative, sensual and largely bordering on subtleties. His works were as enigmatic as the artist himself – an elusive, charismatic and larger-than-life figure- whom the entire art fraternity venerated. A member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Association, Husain along with such painters like Tyeb Mehta, S.H.Raza, Francis Newton Souza and others, had marked a watershed in the history of Indian art.
Almost always clad in black, Husain had fathered many children, among whom Shamshad Husain and Owais Husain went on to become painters themselves. Husain had painted a series on the Ramayana, only to be followed by one on the Mahabharata –our common mythological texts. Centuries earlier, Raja Ravi Verma had painted a host of Hindu gods and goddesses in a more humanised context. For this Verma was neither castigated nor forced to leave his country. Rather he was conferred the title of ‘Raja’. Then why did fundamentalists make a painter like M.F. Husain leave his motherland? He had pined for India and had expressed his fervent wish to return. But that was not to be. It was a rigid ‘fatwa’ and he was destined to breathe his last in London.
I often wonder at the possibility of any ulterior motive behind this heinous act of communal patriarchy. But I console myself with the fact that art transcends barriers. It cannot be compartmentalised nor be made a target of a political or personal vendetta. The artist may die. But his art would live in the minds and hearts of genuine followers and appreciators of the visual and the pictorial.