The Husain on the wall

The memory of seeing M.F. Husain colouring one of his sketches back in 1999 is still fresh in the mind of Madan Sharma, one of the owners of Azad Hind Dhaba, a popular eatery in south Kolkata.

One fine afternoon years back, Mr. Husain walked into the dhaba, which he frequented during his visits here, and all of a sudden started adding colour to the black and white sketch on the wall that he had drawn three years before.

“The experience made me speechless,” Mr. Sharma said, on the eve of the 99th birth anniversary of the iconic painter.

The now-famous painting, titled Gaja Gamini (one with a walk like an elephant), depicts a dancing woman, in a bright red background, while a white elephant looks on with its trunk held aloft. Mr. Husain arranged a private show of his film Gaja Gamini at Azad Hind in 1999.

Sitting at the cash counter with the painting behind him, Mr. Sharma fondly recalled his memories of the famous artist. He remembers Mr. Husain as a “moody and humble person” who would come to the restaurant and sit quietly in one corner sipping his favourite “ kadak chai [strong tea].”

“He did not talk much. But sometimes told me what kind of food he wants,” Mr. Sharma said. He was initially apprehensive of talking to an artist of Mr. Husain’s calibre, but eventually they became friends. “Mr. Husain could mingle with adults and children with equal ease. He was totally devoid of arrogance.” Whenever schoolchildren spotted him at the eatery, they flocked to him and asked for autographs. The world-famous painter complied with their demands with a smile and even drew them impromptu sketches.

When asked about the controversy that erupted in 2006 over Mr. Husain’s depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses, Mr. Sharma said the thought of removing the painting never entered his mind. “Nobody asked me to remove the painting even when the controversy erupted.”

Mr. Husain eventually had to leave the country under pressure from Hindu nationalist forces. He passed away in London in August 2011.

Meanwhile, the dancing woman with an elephant walk lives on happily on the central wall of Azad Hind Dhaba, in the company of numerous Hindu gods and goddesses.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:21:51 AM |

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