Stroke of genius

Sep 17, 2012, 11:15 IST | A Correspondent

Had he been alive, MF Husain would have celebrated his 97th birthday today. Some of Mumbai's leading lights remember the maestro's impact on their life, work and on Mumbai's canvas, at large

Samir Mondal
There is one incident that I remember. Husain saab’s art instillation, Shwetambri was being showcased at the Jehangir Art Gallery for which the entire space was required. White was the dominant colour. He used all the walls and the partitions between the exhibiting areas to hang white fabric. Every corner had some hanging, the curls and the wings and drapery filled the rooms from one corner to the other, which was one element. For the second element, he crumpled newspaper and threw it on the floor. The entire floor was covered with crumpled newspaper, which gave the floor another texture. It became a walk-through instillation instead of a tiny subject. However, people did not understand the instillation too well. They began to joke about it in the presence of Husain saab. I was there too. I understood the concept and loved it. When people asked Husain saab to explain the instillation, he didn’t say much but because I was there, I started explaining it to the people. However, even though I was talking more about his instillation than Husain was, he was unaffected. In fact, when the photographers arrived, I told him to lie down on the newspaper-covered floor so that the photograph could use an angle that was interesting, with him featuring in it. He didn’t mind it, and obliged. He was shy; I had never seen him talk too much.

Pic/ Getty images

Shobhaa De
Husain Saab was a Mumbaikar all the way. He longed for the city that he passionately loved, as he lay on a cot in a cold, impersonal hospital room in distant London. He yearned to come home, and home to him was India. I spent over two hours with him that evening. It was difficult for him to talk for long without gasping for breath. Despite his frail condition, his fertile imagination was in full flow, his brain ticking away energetically, as we laughed and chatted. When his son Owais walked in, Husain Saab had one request — he wanted to savour his favourite falooda from Badshah’s at Crawford Market. Owais offered to get him a rose flavoured milk shake from the best restaurant in London. Husain Saab shook his head. It had to be Badshah’s falooda or nothing! As the light faded, so did his earlier ebullient mood. He was clearly fatigued. I joked about the cutting chai he was addicted to in Mumbai. A tired laugh followed, and then a dismissive wave of the hand that could still grasp a paintbrush firmly and create a new universe with a few bold strokes. MF Husain was and remains India’s greatest artist.

Papri Bose Mehta
Of all the incidences there is this one incident that always stays in my mind. Husain was once sitting with a few of us at Jehangir Art Gallery. He was supposed to meet a minister, who was at the gallery in the other section. As soon as he was called, Husain rose and with a spring in his step walked towards the minister. For his age, the enthusiasm and the energy he had was child-like and beautiful. Very few people have so much passion at that age.

Kalpana Shah, owner, Tao Art Gallery
On the eve of Janmashtami, he came to our home and announced that he had signed a deal of R100 crores for 100 paintings. It was a landmark for any artist, especially, an Indian artist. We opened a bottle of red wine and immediately called contemporaries like Raza and Tyeb Mehta. Next, he drew a sketch of him carrying a canvas, like Vasudev carried Krishna on his birth. Such was his energy at that moment that I still remember every detail.

Jitish Kallat
During the summer of 2009, I was at a hotel in London with my wife and son. On the day we were checking out, Husain walked in and invited us to visit his suite that he had converted into a studio. On the way back home, all I could think of was the energy that he had. His contribution to Indian art has altered the grammar of European modernism with an Indian ethos. He had found his own dialect with which he created some startling images. 

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