“My father never expressed a desire to preserve his works anywhere in the world,” says Delhi-based artist Shamshad Husain in a chat with Madhur Tankha….
With his father dying in a foreign country after being forced to live in exile, Shamshad Husain now wants to construct a special museum in the country displaying the extraordinary works of Maqbool Fida Husain.
Shamshad, a prominent Delhi-based artist, says his father never expressed a desire to preserve his paintings and sketches anywhere in the world. “But I would like to set up a museum in India as a tribute to him. Not because he was my father but because he was an artist; a breed apart from the rest of his contemporaries. It is important to store his paintings in the land of his birth.”
There are security concerns too as hoodlums have tried to damage his works in the past. “Four museums, which previously displayed his art works, no longer do so because of pressure from certain quarters.”
The first attack was on the museum in Ahmedabad that housed his paintings. “A tapestry was burnt down by the miscreants. Once artist Bhupen Khakhar invited my father to inaugurate his exhibition in Ahmedabad. My father flew to the city, but just when he was about to leave for the venue, he was told that some people armed with sticks had collected near the museum. Similarly, in Mumbai some people entered our house and destroyed book shelves and stole a painting made by my younger brother Owais thinking it was by my father.”
Things came to such a sorry state that when in 2006 Shamshad and his two brothers and two sisters along with their father took a flight to Mumbai they were told at the airport by an insider that they must flee the country for their own safety. “While the rest of my family left for Dubai, I stayed on. I used to visit him in his new home.”
Though Husain longed to come back, the hate campaign, acts of vandalism, cases filed against him, physical intimidation and “reluctance on the political leadership's part to assure him that no harm would come if he returns” prevented him from doing so. “Despite all this, he bore no ill-will against anyone. When the rulers of Qatar conferred citizenship on him, he had no alternative but to accept it.”
Noting that the campaign against him started only when an exhibition of sketches depicting gods and goddesses in the nude was mounted in Delhi, Shamshad says his father drew the sketches while he was in the United States. “He never wanted to insult any religion and had read the holy scriptures of Hindus and Christians. When Ram Manohar Lohia urged him to work on Ramayana and Mahabharata, he requested a pundit to read the epics while he painted.”
A travel freak, he always carried a handbag.
For Husain, cinema was just a medium to express art on a bigger canvas. He lost a great deal of money pursuing his passion for cinema but always hoped that one day his films would get due recognition.
His first documentary, Through the Eyes of a Painter, that was objected to by a Right-wing group during the recent Mumbai Film Festival, was made mostly with his own money. “The Films Division paid him Rs. 10,000 to produce the film. But my father paid for the travelling and daily expenses incurred by the crew. It went on to win the prestigious The Golden Bear award at the International Film Festival in Berlin in 1967.”
Husain wanted to work on his new film but his untimely death robbed him of that chance. “When my father came over to Bombay in the late 1930s he slept on footpaths. Whatever little money he earned by drawing hoardings sitting under lamp posts, he used to spend in a restaurant. When the owner came to know that he was a painter, he asked my father to do his wife's portrait. The owner was so impressed with the result that he offered him free meals for a month.”
While living in Mumbai, he befriended film stars of those days including Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand.
For his film Gaja Gamini, Madhuri Dixit never charged any remuneration. Even Shah Rukh Khan did not charge a penny. “Khan requested my father to gift him some paintings and he obliged. My father gifted his works to politicians and famous personalities. He once gifted a painting to Sachin Tendulkar, who liked it so much that he wanted another one for his new house. But he insisted on paying for it.”
Noting that his illustrious father was a workaholic, Shamshad says he worked as late as “2 a.m.” even when he was in his nineties. “He never smoked nor touched alcohol. A religious person, he offered namaz five times a day. He liked working in khamoshi. He never imposed his views on me.”
Shamshad is creating a series of paintings these days for an exhibition titled “Autobiography” that will be mounted in Delhi and Mumbai.