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The pilgrim’s progress

On the legendary artist’s 95th birthday, here’s looking back at his life and work through pictures and excerpts from Pradeep Chandra’s book, M F Husain — A Pictorial Tribute.

entertainment Updated: Sep 17, 2010 13:38 IST

India is an incredible country. It is generous and diverse. There is no in the world like this”; Husain has this to say about India. It is indeed ironic that he had to leave the country after being accused of insulting the sentiments of the majority community in India. Since 2006, he has lived in self-imposed exile first in Dubai and later in Qatar.

A restless soul, an eternal nomad, Husain has been a painter whose art belongs to the world. But like the pilgrim who always returns to his fount of inspiration after his peregrinations, Husain periodically turns to India’s artistic heritage of five thousand years for inspiration. The nonagenarian artist is now a Qatari citizen.

Feeling the pain
Husain giving up Indian citizenship has ruffled quite a few feathers in India. Some find it strange that he is no longer Indian by citizenship. Husain, though, consoles himself by saying that after his death he would require only a tiny piece of land. “It doesn’t matter to me where I am buried”, says the eternal nomad.

He has always tried to hide his displeasure and his pain at being forced out of a country that he has loved and which has loved him in return and made him her tallest artist. Even his paintings do not express any negativity or depression owing to his nomadic life out of force.

Questions galore
But the questions keep coming. Whom does he hold responsible for his exile? Why did he not fight his detractors harder? How can he choose a Middle Eastern monarchy, not known for its liberal ways over a tempestuous, albeit imperfect democracy?

When the courts issued a non-bailable warrant against him in 2006 for hurting the sentiments of a religious community, Husain refused to appear in court. He has been in exile since.

Many people have commented that Husain should have fought harder to protect his freedom of expression. He defends himself by saying that he is not a political or social activist, but an artist and wants peace of mind to express himself. At this age he would rather concentrate on his work given that he feels that he has so much unfinished work to complete.

The charge that hurts and baffles him the most is that he has deliberately denigrated Hindu deities, thereby hurting Hindu sentiments. He has never felt guilty about any of his paintings or been apologetic of his art. Instead he offers an explanation, “I have said that I have done all my paintings including those on Gods and Goddesses with pure love and belief. I have celebrated my love through the paintings.”

He has repeated time and again, that he has never had and never will have the intention of hurting anyone’s sentiments.

Promises to keep
In the meantime, away from the entire hullabaloo, the artist remains immersed in his work. He is working on three major projects. He is painting the history of Indian civilisation from ‘Mohenjodaro to Manmohan Singh’. Similarly, he is capturing the history of Arab civilisation till date on his canvas. The third project, on which he has spoken off and on for the last few years, is the history of cinema which completes a 100 years since Dadasaheb Phalke made the first ever Indian movie in 1911. Husain wants to make museums for each of the three.

Emir of Qatar is planning a Museum of Modern Art and the 95 year old Husain is the chosen one to accomplish the task. He is slated to complete 99 paintings in the next two years for the museum. These paintings will focus on the history of the Arab tradition. Apart from these paintings, Husain is also making life size sculptures of his miniature horses made from Murano glass, for the museum.

Life in exile
Exile, however, could not shadow the joie de vivre of the spirited artist, and for him life still is a celebration. He still laughs and the world laughs with him. Shakespeare once said, “Laughing faces do not mean that there is absence of sorrow! But it means that they have the ability to deal with it”.

The words are so true for Husain! In Dubai he has a plush apartment fashioned like a Hollywood set. Another apartment has been converted to a Museum and he has named it “Red Light Museum”, a name deliberately designed, he says, “to make people sit up.” This gallery contains the paintings sent back to him by his one time ladylove, Maria. There is also the series of his paintings named Husain Decoded as well as a series on Mughal-e-Azam. Villa#

3, Street 16, West Bay Lagoon Complex is the address in Doha where ‘the nomad has finally pitched his tent’. The complex is listed among Qatar’s ambitious housing projects and is deemed an architectural marvel for its canals that are linked to the Persian Gulf. Security, in today’s age of growing insecurity, is 24X7 and no one can enter any villa unless the host or his representative personally escorts the guest. His new home is a gift from the ruler of Qatar, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

The karmayogi carries on
However, in spite of his exile, Husain continues to remain an auctioneer’s delight, a style statement for the elite and a genuine inspiration for art lovers. The country’s rich and the famous still compete among themselves to buy his work. Sotheby auctioned three of his works and he got pocket money worth USD 5,82,500.

Recently, he has said that he would return to India and hold an exhibition on Mother Teresa in Kolkata. The great painter and artist keeps the process of creation going, “My journey is still on. What is important to me is continuity. As long as you live, you paint, there is no end to it. Creativity is a circle. You start at some point and take it further, and then someone else comes and takes it up. That’s how the world progresses. Just like the Great Creator, you have to create.”

At times, one wishes that the Great Creator give this restless soul a little patience…

(The story is an edited version of Pradeep Chandra’s upcoming book, M F Husain — A Pictorial Tribute. Photos: Pradeep Chandra)