MF Husain had quite a few cellphone numbers, some of which would go out of reach or were simply not available, as he lived between Doha, Dubai and London, also travelling to New York to attend art shows. He was unreachable, mostly.
But if he wanted to chat, he would ask courteously, “Hope I am not disturbing you. You have five minutes?”
A week ago, I was told that ‘Baba’ was unwell, that there was water retention in his lungs but he had refused surgical intervention, stubbornly arguing that he would live for as many days as he was ordained to. He was at the St James Park Hotel close to Buckingham Palace.
His health deteriorated, he was admitted to hospital and he could not return to his everyday beat of wandering off to a Chinese restaurant that he frequented for lunch, or to the Dorchester Hotel where he always took his friends for high tea. Evenings would be spent with his friends and his family for an early dinner.
A day before being diagnosed for water retention last week, Husain called from Dubai. Driven by habit, I had recorded a brief interview. Excerpts:
Any chances of you returning home ever?
I keep telling whoever asks me, “Yes, yes, I will return soon in three or four months.” But I know that is not likely to ever happen. It’s alright. No one cares, no one has done anything. That doesn’t bother me. I’m painting [laughs].
I’ve just done a portrait of Anushka Sharma as a typical Punjab di kuddi. I think Shah Rukh Khan was too overpowering a presence for her in Rab ne Bana di Jodi but in Band Baaja she was simple and intelligent.
But Baba, you also wanted to paint a portrait of Vidya Balan?
Yes, I had spoken to her... about acting in my next film but we have not met. I really liked her in Ishqiya. She was tremendous in No One Killed Jessica but I didn’t like the film at all. What one has read in the papers has been so much more moving and effective than what was shown in the film.
I don’t know why she didn’t come to Dubai. I had invited her but there was no response. Koi baat nahin. When I have a script I will try to get in touch again.
Have you completed your series of paintings on Indian cinema?
That’s on. It’ll be a big huge panel [laughs]. I’ve titled it ‘From the Silver Shine of Dadasaheb Phalke to the Golden Dazzle of Madhuri Dixit’. Also, I’ve nearly finished my series on Islamic civilisation. And work is on my ‘History of Indian Civilisation’.
I don’t know if India will ever get to see this but I felt good when some of my work was shown at New Delhi’s Art Summit earlier this year. I sent the organisers my congratulations. Kuchh protest hua but then they did show my work. I like the idea of this winter summit in Delhi.
See, for the last 50 years or so, I’ve had this dream project of a really independent Museum of Contemporary Art on the lines of the Tate [in London]. The State should not interfere in its administration or in its choice of artists and paintings. I don’t know what the official Modern Art Gallery is doing in Delhi.
Tyeb Mehta wanted his works to be shown there, but they didn't do anything. And he passed away without his wish fulfilled.
Are you looking after your health?
Hanh, all is well. I’ll be leaving for London soon. I’ll be there for a couple of months. Do come. There’s lots to talk about.