M. Reyaz, BeyondHeadlines
The last Mughal Emperor, Bhadur Shah Zafar, wrote in Rangoon “lagta nahin hai ji mera ujde dayaar mein….Umar-e-daraaz maang ke laaye the chaar din, do aarzoo mein kat gaye do intezaar mein; hai kitna badnaseeb “Zafar,” dafn ke liye do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein.”
Zafar, for the record, was exiled by the British East India Company for his role in what we in India call ‘The Revolt of 1857,’ but the British government brushes it aside as a ‘Sepoy Mutiny.’
Those last lines of the poem, written by the exiled ruler himself, were the first thing that came to my mind as I got the news of sudden demise of the czar of modern day Indian art Maqbool Fida Husain (MF Husain).
From making film posters in Mumbai, Husain literally traveled places to become the Indian ‘Picasso,’ and was certainly marked with controversies, especially since 1990s, as much as he got recognition and accolades for his work in India and abroad.
Born in a pilgrimage town in Maharashtra Pandharpur, Hussain lost his mother when he was barely one-and-a-half-year old. As part of the Progressive Artists’ Group, Husain broke away from the Bengal School of Art and was quite successful at that. In 1952, he had his first international solo exhibition in Zurich and went on to become the highest paid Indian painter when his single canvass fetched $1.6 million.
He was also a special invitee at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971 along with Pablo Picasso.
India bestowed honours on him with prestigious Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Indian Parliament) in 1986.
Husain took the Indian art and the cubist-inspired modern art to the global stage but was riled in controversy with his paintings on Hindu deities, from whom he drew his inspirations. As the Hindutva force gained momentum in India, his works were marred with controversy for presenting ‘Hindu deities’ in bad light.
He preferred to go on self-imposed exile in 2006 when some fringe elements forced shut down his exhibitions. In an interview with BBC in 2010, he said that he was facing hundreds of cases in several Indian courts and he regularly sends money to his nephew to fight them and that he never ran away.
He, all the while, maintained that he was out for his projects and not because of threats and wants to come back. But he broke silence earlier this year when he said: “India is my motherland. I can’t hate my motherland. But she rejected me. Then why should I stay in India?” He had accepted the Qatari citizenship in 2010.
Husain also tried his hand at film-making, first with his muse Madhuri Dixit in Gajgaamii, and later with Tabu in Meenakshi. He was planning his third movie with Vidya Balan.
In his muse Dixit he saw the epitome of Indian beauty, grace and charm and is believed to have seen Hum Aapke Hain Kaun at least 67 times.
The artist at heart walked barefoot to the funeral of Hindi poet Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh in 1964 to “feel the heat,” and since remained barefoot. However, it was not a sudden emotional decision. The event of Karbala (in Iraq) shaped his thought.
Husain also noted once that his father used to tell him that his feet resembled his mother’s. Hence, he decided that he should not put shoes!
India has had the tradition of barefoot saints but here was an ebullient and eccentric painter who chose to leave the land he loved the most and where he always wanted to come back.
Hussain, an Indian by birth, died as a Qatari citizen on June 9 at a London hospital at the age of 95.
The artists’ fraternity in India is pleading for his body to be brought to the country, but it seems unlikely. He will be buried today in London as he always wanted to be put to rest wherever he dies.
Towards end, he was “rejected” by his mother land (in his words) but in death, barring few, the country was united in revering the “national loss.” His bête noire Bal Thakrey too prayed that May Allah give him peace.”
His wife Fazila predeceased him. He is survived by his six children – two daughters and four sons.