M.F. Husain used to recite an Urdu couplet to illustrate his philosophy that every living moment was worth celebrating because it could well be your last moment: maut sabko aani hain kaun isse chuta hain, tu fana nahi hoga yeh khayal jhutha hain, dum ka kya bharosa hain jaane kab nikal jaaye (everyone has to die; nobody is exempt from death and you never know when it would come.)
Recounting this at a memorial meeting here on Saturday, Sir Gulam Noon, India-born food magnate and close friend of the late artist, said Husain's joie de vivre and his capacity to make friends emanated from his acute understanding of the transitory nature of life. This was reflected in another couplet that he was fond of reciting: jinko apna kehta hain kab yeh tere saathi hain; kabra hain teri mazil aur yeh baraati hain laake kabra main tujhko urda pak dalenge; apne haathon se tere muh pe khak dalenge (The people you call your own will leave you one day; put you in a grave and cover your face with a handful of dust.)
The meeting, held at a hotel in Mayfair, Husain's favourite haunt, was attended by his family members and a large number of friends and admirers including the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, industrialist Lakshmi Mittal, and actor Randhir Kapoor.
“We are here to celebrate his life today not to mourn him,” one friend said as speakers remembered Husain for his “generosity of spirit,” his enthusiasm for life and his capacity, as his son Owais put it, to “fill his absences with his presence.”
Sir Gulam recalled how Husain helped him discover a rare painting.
“One day Husain sahib saw me in a hotel lobby and out of the blue asked me: where the hell is your brother's painting which I did in 1936? I had no idea what he was talking about. I told my family and we discovered that indeed there was such a painting. It was lying in the store nicely wrapped up in a paper. He asked me to take a picture of his with the photograph. It is one of my proud possessions and hangs in my office,” he said.
‘Enthusiasm for life'
Owais spoke movingly about his father's enthusiasm for life and said that hours before his death he was discussing plans for a new project.
“He had an amazingly positive attitude to life and was always full of plans for the future. His voice is still ringing in our ears,” he said, adding: “There's a feeling of emptiness in Mayfair today.”
N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, recalled his long association with Husain and the last time they spoke when the latter called him from his hospital bed last Tuesday afternoon.
“I had a sense of foreboding that this might turn out to be a farewell call,” he said.
Mr. Ram said that despite the harassment and intimidation he faced, Husain was never bitter.
“Husain saab, although sad, was never bitter against anyone in India, or for that matter anywhere else,” Mr. Ram said, describing him as someone “genuinely and deeply committed to the composite, multi-religious, and secular values of Indian civilisation.”
Mr. Ram said Husain had an amazing capacity to work in any environment. “Put me in a jungle and I can paint,” Husain told The New York Times.
Alluding to the media focus on the fact that Husain died in a London hospital, he said: “Let's not be carried away by narrow nationalism.”
Here was an Indian who had a Qatari nationality and died in a London hospital.
“Let us rise in celebration of the man he was. All of us share a part of the canvas he was,” Mr. Ram said.
Naresh Kumar, former tennis player and long-time friend of the artist, said: “There will never be another Husain.”