Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury M F Husain, not to praise him.
There ends my attempt at oratory and more or less my familiarity with Julius Caesar.
That is beside the point. I have been planning to write about Maqbool Fida Husain, his art and the controversies surrounding him and so on, for quite some time and his death has goaded me into action, at last.
Let me narrate my encounters with him.
The University of Mysore conferred upon him an honorary doctorate in 1978. As is the tradition each of the recipients of the honorary doctorates were expected to speak. When it was his turn to speak, Husain went to the curious object that stood on the dais that was completely covered by a large cloth. He cut an impressive figure in his flowing convocation robes. He removed the cloth to reveal an easel with a prepared canvas on it, a palette and some tubes of paint and brushes. Without uttering a word, he squeezed generous blobs of colour on to the palette, painted a peacock with brisk sure strokes, bowed to the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor and the audience. I thought that he was saying that he was proud as a peacock. He was not done yet. He went back to the canvas and with deft strokes painted the crown on the peacocks head. He went back to his seat to deafening applause.
What a showman!
I wonder what the University did with that painting. Perhaps it was discarded somewhere or did Husain take it with him? I do not have much hope for it if it remained in the hands of the University officials. This is the university which destroyed a magnificent mural by K K Hebbar on the walls of its library when the library building was expanded.
The next time I saw him was in Bombay. I was waiting for a bus in front of TIFR and a white Mercedes came to a halt at its gates. The driver was invisible because of the darkened glasses and the driver’s side door opened. A long lean unshod foot appeared from behind the door and then the unmistakable figure of Husain emerged.
Years later I saw him in Deccan Gymkhana, Pune. He came to a restaurant and sat waiting for some others to join him. He carried a long handled brush, as a walking stick, perhaps. I and my friend Praveen Sutrave dug into our pockets for something suitable to get his autograph on. We only found our business cards. We went to him and he graciously gave us his autograph. I still have it with me somewhere.
I saw him last when he walked in to a music concert at the Mysore Palace during Dasara. He was dressed stylishly in dark green trousers, brown shirt and a matching green waistcoat. Before you know what had happened the heads turned and the whole audience that was very attentive till then was staring at him! He did a Namaste to the musicians and quietly walked away.
Years earlier to all this, in the sixties, I had seen a portrait he had made of Dr. A. Rahman, a scientist in CFTRI and a good friend of my father. Years later I asked Rehman_mama (as I called him) what had become of that portrait. Husain had walked into his house one day and said that it was not a good portrait and took it back with him promising a better one soon, which never materialised.
This is my tribute to a man whose colourful character I followed with fascination over the years. In spite of all the vitriolic things hurled at him and his art, I have admired his art for whatever it was worth. A true evaluation of his art is right now possible for me because the scene is confused by the obscene amounts of money his works get sold at and the media hype about him.
I rest my case, which is no case at all!