He was a product of India's composite culture, says Shabana Azmi; he painted with his heart, not his hand: Alyque Padamsee

Time, they thought, could not touch him. Notwithstanding his ripe age, M.F. Husain's demise came as a shock to his friends.

“Despite his advanced age, I was convinced he would remain immortal. I mourn the loss of an iconic painter, wonderful human being and a very close friend. I mourn his loss deeply, not just personally or for the artist community, but for the world. The world gets a person like M.F. Husain once in a lifetime. I knew him for a long time. He was deeply rooted in Indian culture. He was a product of India's syncretic and composite culture. His mother would wear a nine-yard sari. He was 11 when his father recognised his talent,” actor Shabana Azmi told The Hindu on the phone.

Ms. Azmi said his ability to transcend national barriers and yet be rooted in Indian culture was his greatest strength.

Akbar Padamsee, painter and one of Husain's contemporaries and friends, said his death came as a “shock” as he had been leading a highly productive life. “In one night, he died. Just the night before, he was speaking to a friend. He was wonderful, loving, humble, and had the ability to be one with anybody in one stroke.”

Among the many memories Mr. Padamsee has of his friend, the one that stands out is his meeting Husain in Paris. “Once, he came to meet me in Paris. He stayed with me. He asked me, Gaadi nahi hai? [Don't you have a car?]. When I said ‘no,' he promptly went and got me one. He remarked, ‘Now I have put you on wheels. You have wheels under you now.' I had to take driving lessons,” Mr. Padamsee said.

Theatre person Alyque Padamsee said: “It's a great grief. We have lost one of the icons of India who ranks up there with Rabindranath Tagore. M.F. Husain was a true genius who told me he painted with his heart, not his hand. He was also very generous and donated me a painting of Othello for my production in 1990. Also, he did a magnificent 500-foot vertical mural for the exhibition ‘Hiroshima Never Again,' which I curated at Nehru Centre.”

“Unique force”

Shireen Gandhy, director of Chemould Prescott Road, a contemporary art gallery in Mumbai, said in a statement issued from Switzerland: “[As] children, we grew up with Husain as part of the family. Always unpredictable, playful and one [who] could never be pinned down to the norms of society. Husain was a unique force in our world. The family of Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy [Ms. Gandhy's parents] deeply mourn the loss of the father of modern and contemporary art in India.”

“Husain, ‘the grand old man of contemporary art in India,' was a child at heart. He seemed infallible with the spring in his step there till the last,” Ms. Gandhy said.

There was much condemnation for the fundamentalist attacks on Husain's work, which forced him to go into exile. “When it came to Husain, the government and the people of India made a mockery of democracy. We all know the soft target Husain was made of by Hindu fundamentalists. The government simply played into the hands of this dangerous force, giving false credence to their extremely suspect cause,” Ms. Gandhy said.

“We who grew up with the art of M.F. Husain knew well that for him, his knowledge of religion was deep, sustaining and the way he translated it into a visual language was completely misunderstood and misinterpreted. There are scholarly theories on his understanding of this aspect by historians like Geeta Kapur. Unfortunately, the voices of Hindu fundamentalists were shrill in comparison to those of us who knew his art. Husain not only studied world religion as part of his practice but was also deeply respectful of it. The fact was that he did not consider himself a ‘devout Muslim,' but instead a ‘devout human being',” she said.

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