The Maqbool Fida Husain I knew

Maqbool Fida Husain and I were of the same age - both of us were born in 1915. I got to know him during my stint in Bombay. Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: Jun 26, 2011 00:00 IST

Maqbool Fida Husain and I were of the same age - both of us were born in 1915. I got to know him during my stint in Bombay. He had already earned a name for himself as a modern artist and established a personal trade mark going bare-footed and carrying a two-yard long paint brush. He was a tall, well-built, handsome man with a beard. His infatuation for Bollywood stars, particularly Madhuri Dixit were bazaar gossip. By the time I got to know him, he was infatuated with Kamna Prasad. And she with him.

When he was invited to visit Pakistan, he persuaded Kamna to come with him. Once there he became very casual towards her. She cut short her visit and returned to Delhi. He sensed he had offended her and asked me to plead with her on his behalf to forgive him. He also added that he would dedicate his autobiography to her. No one knows how his family and six children took his philandering with women because they never spoke about it to outsiders.

Husain supported the imposition of Emergency by Mrs Gandhi. He printed a large triptych showing chaos in the country, ending in Mrs Gandhi triumphantly riding a tiger.

Mrs Gandhi had it put up in Parliament House. It was removed when Mrs Gandhi lost the elections. I don't know where it is now. He drew a small sketch for me in my office. I had it framed and I have it in my mantelpiece.

He got into serious trouble when he painted a picture of Mother India and Hindu goddesses in the nude. Shiv Sainiks, Bajrang Dalis destroyed them. They filed criminal cases in different courts and had warrants of arrest issued against him He quoted Ghalib in his defence: Ya Rabb, voh na samjhey hain, na samjhey gey meri baat / Dey aur dil unko, yaa dey mujhko zubaan air.

(Dear God, they have not understood, nor will ever understand what I am trying to say. Either give them a new heart, or give me a different tongue.)

He fled the country and settled down in Qatar. By then each one of his paintings were fetching crores of rupees. He did not know what to do with money. He bought six expensive cars. The reason why his death got massive media coverage was due to the sense of guilt that we had not stood by him when he needed us most.

One incident I cannot forget. We happened to be in the same flight from Delhi to Bombay. When we were coming out of the airport, a Sikh taxi driver ran up and took his bag from him and escorted him to his car. I was impressed that a taxi driver knew of his eminence as an artist. Husain was dropped at his house. He gave him a couple of hundred rupee notes and asked him to drop me in Colaba. He added another two hundred rupee note. On our way to Colaba, I asked the driver how he knew Husain. He replied in Punjabi: "Koee padri-shadri hai - hath da bara khula hai - hath da bara khula hai. (It is some church dignitary, but has a generous hand.) I corrected him: " 'He is no padri shadri. He is a Mussalman and a great painter.'" I wish they had brought his body to India to be buried in the soil of his homeland.

Ramdev Baba

Baba Ramdev is a rare yogi and sanyasi

He teaches yogasanas and spreads spirituality

And wants to bring black money back to the country

For which he has donned saffron attire

And set up a vast Ayurvedic empire

And sold the shares of his company

And collected a lot of Indian and foreign money

For which in the salubrious climate of Scotland

He has purchased a paradisal island.

For which; of course, in self defence

He won't mind raising an army and use violence

For which his number two, Acharya Balkrishan

Is alleged to be a fugitive from law and a Nepalese citizen

Ah, while he may or may not be anybody's agent

What a great contribution he has made to Anna Hazare's movement

- An honest, self-abnegating call against corruption which is a crying need of the nation!

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Jun 25, 2011 23:55 IST