“It is a shame on our nation and our political leaders that they could not stand up to the communal forces who tried to defame him and his art and allowed him to be forced into exile"

Even as the nation’s art fraternity unites to share their memories and pay tribute to the grand old man of Indian art, many are expressing grief and anger that not enough was done to bring M.F. Husain back to his homeland before he died.

Veteran artist Anjolie Ela Menon, one of Husain’s closest associates for almost 50 years, is depressed. She had met him just a few days ago in London. “Having made myself believe the news somehow, I am just feeling relieved that he wasn’t critically ill and that he was at the peak of his career and creativity. What more can a great artist ask for, at this age?” she said.

“The media is making too much of his exile controversy,” she felt. “See, ironically, the ‘secular’ India that couldn’t protect him here, is the same India that he was making 100 paintings on [that is, his 100 years of Indian Civilization] and that too in a foreign land! And the same Husain who was thrown out of his own country for supposedly hurting the religious feeling of certain sections, was at the peak of making 100 works on the Ramayana too! Look at his stature and humility. You can’t insult such an artist in his own country.”

Husain has left several memories with 86-year old Satish Gujral too. “I met him in 1956 after coming back from Mexico,” he recalls in a frail voice. “Since he knew my penchant for Urdu and because of my hearing impairment, he would communicate with me in Urdu couplets from several poets. That brought us close to each other.” Though being “completely on two different tracks artistically” Husain the artist didn’t influence his works, Husain the dear friend did.

Mr. Gujral is pained to hear the old controversies cropping up again. “Husain has made the greatest contribution to the modern Indian art. No one artist in India has popularized Hindu mythology through his works as much as Husain did. He never insulted it.”

Lover of good food

A foodie himself, painter Jatin Das too has fond memories of Husain and his love for good food. He fondly recalls having a great time at Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi. “I know him for 52 years. Though he was elder to me, we were great pals. Delhi’s Jungpura earlier used to be a hub for some 100 artists. I, Husain, V S Gaitonde, Ram Kumar… we all used to go to Nizamuddin Aulia shrine and enjoy kababs, prathas and qorma.”

Mr. Das, who has been at the helm of protest against a section of RSS “goons” who ransacked a Husain show at SAHMAT a couple of years ago, says, “It’s high time we brought his body back and performed the last rites with national honour and shame the goons.”

Veteran abstract artist Gopi Ganjwani couldn’t control his tears as he reminisced about Husain. “He was like ‘free air’, never at one place,” he says. “One afternoon, he was having lunch at Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi. And in the evening he was supposed to attend an exhibition there. But till late evening he didn’t reach. The late Biren De, who arrived late, then told us that he had already reached Mumbai and perhaps he forgot to come there. For him, traveling was such a small affair.”

Aspiring artists like Ravi Gossain who has dedicated an entire series to Husain, sent his pictures to him in London. “Husain saab called me from there just a months ago and said, “You are doing a good job” and laughed heartily thanking me for the same. For me, that was a historic laugh preserved in my memory. I wonder how he could find time to call me and remember me. It was very humbling,” he says.

The world of films is deeply depressed too. Musician A.R. Rahman, who was rushing to the United States found time to say that he has been an admirer of Husain’s works and persona. “We are going to miss his wisdom and free spirit. He will live through his interpretation of life’s colour that he depicted in his art.”

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt is rather vehement and “guilty”. He feels even the film fraternity to whom he gave two “wonderful films like Gaja Gamini and Meenaxi — A tale of two cities”, didn’t do enough for him.

“With folded hands and bent knees, I seek his forgiveness that I myself, despite being so active, didn’t do much for him. He lived in Mumbai and loved it so much. From painting Bollywood posters to becoming an international icon, Husain was undone by the so-called secular government that let him go to an alien land to breathe his last. If this government wants to retain its secular identity, it must bring him back,” he asserts.

Amrita Rao, on whom Husain was about to make a film, is “shocked”. “He once met me in Mumbai and told me very fondly, “You have quintessential Indian beauty. I would like to make a woman-oriented film with you’. I was on the seventh heaven. His works in Dubai and London kept him occupied and now it will never happen.”

Veteran Bengali actor Soumitro Chatterjee, the blue-eyed boy of Satyajit Ray, recalls having interacted with Husain twice. “It is sad that I met him when Satyajit Ray expired. To honour him, we met in Kolkata where Husain ji was supposed to paint some works based on Ray’s films and I was supposed to speak on his film ‘Charulata’. A very active Husain was very quiet that day but very quick with his brush.”

Dancer Sonal Mansingh today regrets that when Husain wanted to paint her house, she said no. “I didn't know at that time what I was going to miss. But he made some sketches of me in just 2-3 minutes in the early 1980s in Pune."

Photographer and artist Ram Rahman writes, “I never believed Husain could die. At his 95th birthday last September in Doha, he took me to see ‘Dabanng’. He always treated me like a son. It is a shame on our nation and our political leaders that they could not stand up to the communal forces who tried to defame him and his art and allowed him to be forced into exile.”

An era has ended. And all agree that there will never be another Husain.

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