Once Bhupen Hazarika picked me up from Delhi when I was editing the Hindustan Times and flew me to his home town for his annual bash at Siliguri. On the way and over drinks in the evening he told me about his past and present life. His first marriage did not last long. His second one made him a happy husband and father. He was known as a one-song-man: his hymn to the Ganga had made him a national celebrity.
As a matter of fact he had many more songs to his credit and was involved in nation-wide artistic activities which were acclaimed. We reached our destination late in the afternoon and spent the evening drinking together.
Next afternoon I noticed people gathering in large numbers on the road outside. The car in front had no hood that Bhupen could acknowledge greetings of his admirers.
I was put in the car following. As we proceeded, people in their thousands crammed the road and on top of their houses to greet him till we reached a vast maidan. It was a sea of humans as far as I,could see: not in thousands but well over half a million. I was alarmed as a trifling incident could have created a stampede costing many lives.
I was escorted to the dais: It was a sea of humanity, the like of which I had never seen before in my life. I sat on the dais listening to speeches, paid a two-minute tribute to Bhupen and slipped away from the rear. It was an empty town. A Muslim officer of the IAS posted as commissioner of the district had been instructed to look after me. I had my evening drink and dinner with his family. The next morning I flew back to Delhi. I thank Bhupen for familiarising me with the expression - sea of humanity.
Tribute to MF Husain:
Niyogi Books have done a commendable job bringing out a lavishly illustrated coffee table on the greatest painter of our times. I was fortunate to get to know him when I was in Bombay, editing The Illustrated Weekly of India.
He wanted publicity for his work; I wanted respectability in the art world for my magazine. We got on very well with each other. Though he came from a lower-middle class Shia Muslim background; he was generous beyond belief. He only carried notes of Rs 100 denomination to pay for his cab fares.
All was going well till he made a few paintings of a Hindu goddess in the nude. Hindu fundamentalists were up in arms filing criminal cases against him. They forgot their own tradition of Khajuraho and Konark sculptures and illustrations of Kama Sutra, depicting gods and goddesses engaged in sexual intercourse. What a Hindu artist could do, a Muslim could not.
Husain had to flee from his motherland. For the last few years till his death he was living in Qatar. His body was flown to London to be buried in a Shia cemetery. I wish it had been brought to India. His grave would have become a pilgrimage for the art world.
I recall lines of a Urdu verse he quoted about his plight:
Ya Rab voh na samjhey hain, na
samjheyngey meree baat
Ya dey dil unko aur,
ya dey mujhey zubaan aur
O Lord, they have not understood me
Nor will they ever understand
Either give them another heart
or give me another language.
Subverting the system yielding no escape route and law, finally, taking its own course, the VIP feigns chest pain, moves in an ambulance from hospital to hospital for urgent medical aid, in a desperate bid to avoid the road that leads to jail where ordinary mortals are sent at the first instance on a similar pretext.
The despotic regime crumbling around him and death, ultimately, staring in the face, the dictator behaves like a cornered cat shuttles from hide-out to hide-out, cowering in a cellar or a gutter, begging mercy, pity. Which he has denied to scores of protesters. Hunting them down alley by alley, house by house.
Behind shadows of doubts exists the divine order. Its radiant rays glimmer on the skyline afar. Delayed may be the nemesis, but inevitable it is.
The doctor diagnosed the Anglo-Indian colonel's illness as hydropsy. "What was that?" the colonel asked.
"To much water in the body," the doctor explained. The whisky-drinking colonel was indignant: "But I've never drunk a drop of water all my life, doctor:" He paused. Then sadly, he concluded: "Must have been the ice."
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)