Being MF Husain
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Being MF Husain

The 91-year-old veteran painter speaks to Khalid Mohamed on controversies, art, friends, food and life in London.

art and culture Updated: Jun 11, 2007 13:19 IST
Khalid Mohamed
Khalid Mohamed
Hindustan Times

He is unfazed by the prospect of spending the rest of his life as a nomad. And he is courted by art collectors and inveigled to attend widely publicised events.. like the jampacked auction where he painted a canvas with an input from Shah Rukh Khan. Ensconced in an apartment with a panoramic view of the Thames skyline, he paints away furiously, almost as if his life depended on his brush strokes.

So, here's M F Husain in conversation with Khalid Mohamed in London

As another day and another painting kicks off for MF Husain, his cell phone's ring tone keeps blasting a rooster's cock-a-doodle-do.

That brings a smile to the face of the 91-year-old artist who has been away from home for over 18 months now and insists that he is not homesick at all.

But you suspect that's how he consoles himself..chill and let chill. London's unseasonal freezing weather doesn't daunt him either as he walks in socks down Hyde Park or romps around the Oxford countryside.

To interview him, at this point of time, is to catch an artist who has accepted the barbs with as much equanimity as he has gathered the bouquets.

In fact, he doesn't like the phrase ‘in exile' at all. And if he doesn't like a question, he looks mosquitobitten, but as is his wont, answers anyway. Husain after all, like his art, has never been off-the-record..

Obviously, you must be missing home.
I've been coming to London since the last 50 years..there was only one year when I couldn't. I've always had this wanderlust, I've always travelled alone.. I've never needed a crutch.

At the end of the day, you don't miss sleeping in your own bed?
I don't miss that at all. I've never had my own bedroom in my life. Even when my wife was alive, she and I would sleep in the drawing room. The children had grown up, we gave all the rooms to them. I've never had a studio either.

In one way or the other, someone who loses his mother at a very young age always feels that he isn't at home.. there's no attachment to a place. Nothing matters to me except my work, that's been my priority whether I'm in Mumbai or London.

But isn't it strange that you're an artist in exile and that too in the 21st Century?
(Bristles) Exile! That means I want to go back and I can't. My situation isn't something that you can reduce to a few sentences in print.

Since the last two to three years, there was a sense of unease, I had started travelling out of India more than ever before. When the principles of liberty and tolerance become meaningless, an artist is bound to feel insecure.

It happened to Pablo Neruda in the last century.. I wouldn't equate myself with him.. but I would say that in the new century a nation which has bred and nurtured so many faiths – including Buddhism, Islam and Christianity – needs to ask itself where it is going.

You have been through controversies before..and accused of obscenity and what not. What do you think sparked the new row against your paintings?
First of all, the paintings which became controversial were done more than 40 years ago. The protests were whip up public sentiments.. votes jeetne ke liye.

Look at the timing, the BJP had just suffered a crushing defeat in the general elections. That's when my paintings were dragged into a controversy in December 2005. This time, the Internet was used extensively to fan public sentiments.

But throughout, at least one or two people had the guts to stand by Laxmi Mittal and Badri Prasad Pittie.

Aren't your paintings of Lord Ganesha considered extremely auspicious byt he industrial families which own them?

This is a matter of personal belief and faith. Lord Ganesha belongs to everyone.

How have you reacted to the recent controversy surrounding the censorship and arrest of the Vadodara artist Chandramohan


There have been huge rallies by artists and the intelligentsia in his support..but in your case..

I understand the position of my fellow-travellers. Every encroachment on freedom of expression has to be questioned. In my case, what's the big deal? Everyone has just stopped trying to understand contemporary art. If I am uprooted because of that, so be it.

I have apologised with absolute conviction. I have said with utmost honesty that if I have hurt anyone's feelings, I apologise. I have to find the answer to my problems myself. Assurances have been given to me from Delhi, Kerala and Kolkata.. security is promised.. but I would like to return to my home with my head held high.

Has there been no intervention by the central government?
How can there be? You tell me why they haven't.

Because they would have to deal with the Opposistion?
You said, I didn't

How many legal cases arethere against you?
At one point, there were 3,500 cases against me. Of them, 900 were from Goa and 1200 from Maharashtra. I should have been in the Guinness Book of Records. After the Supreme Court's decision, there are five cases

Have you expressed your state of exile in your recent paintings?
(Bristling) I'm not a journalist..I cannot carry on a crusade on canvas. I'm working the way I used to. I can't be expected to slit my wrists..or sit in a wilderness with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

Which of your friends have been in touch?
Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna and Tyeb Mehta..yet whether he's in touch or not, Bal Chhabda will always be my best friend. I miss sitting with him at the C C I lawns having a cup of tea, going off to the movies which we would walk out of after the interval.

In 1960, so many friends.. had said I was finished. Because of that they didn't become ‘lesser' friends of mine. There was Gaitonde with whom I could sit for hours without speaking..silence can speak. I'm just not an articulate speaker, ek time munh bhi nahin khulta tha. I'm a listener, not a speaker.

Do you still hope to return home?
(With flourish) I hope, therefore I paint. I can never say goodbye. It could be eight days, eight weeks, eight's not upto me.

Have you left anything behind?
I take nothing when I leave a place, except my shoulders. But of course there are the small pleasures that are left behind..chai and khaari biscuits at Dhobi Talao, kheema pau breakfasts at the chilliya restaurants but then there's English breakfast here…(laughs) London mein main pucca Angrez ban gaya hoon.

So finally is there anything you would like to say to the people of Mumbai whom you mingled with?
Milenge milenge.. jaldi milenge.

First Published: Jun 09, 2007 17:51 IST