THERE WAS was something about Maqbool Fida Husain that almost every journalist who met him in his forced exile days noticed, unfailingly. What’s more, most of these scribes ended up creating the ediﬁce of their stories on this particular facet. But then, there was an irony here.
These words were in almost cent per cent cases, ac- cording to my guess — hardly spoken at all! And yet, one ended up ‘reading’ it almost every moment one spent with him. His eyes would say it. His body language would churn out ample indications. Those bursts of sudden, almost unannounced, silence would say it all.
Having had the fortune of spending some precious time with him and among the few ones to interview him in detail in his ‘exile’ years, I almost found the decibels of those unspoken words deafening.
Now, let me put to rest this puzzle straightaway. One is talking about the man’s yearning for his native country. That’s the reason I was least amused to read what Bol- lywood’s dhak dhak girl Madhuri Dixit, one of Husain’s favourite muses, had to say about him: “He was a pucca Indian at heart”.
Madhuri described in a few words what most of our fraternity of scribes have always known: Husain’s uncon- ditional love for his country. One almost feels like saluting her for putting our words into her mouth.
Yesterday, as Husain Sahab was laid to rest at Brookwood cemetery at Woking in Surrey, south of London, I couldn’t help feel that tinge of a piercing, and strange, melancholy. And it was time for nostalgia as well.
I still remember how conﬁdently Husain had told me, much to my amazement, that he would be visiting India soon, during that interview in a villa in Jumeirah in Dubai, in February 2007.
When? I had promptly asked. Silence… I repeated my question. Silence again. Waiting to lap up a scoop of Himalayan heights, I had persisted with my ‘when’.
This time, there was some bodily movement, some awkward stances, some uneasiness, a deep breath. I got the message. So I changed the topic almost instantly, mindful of the fact that this was going to be a detailed in- terview, and not a quickie.
On the hindsight, it all seems more unreal than real now. A 95-year-old man, globetrotting, mainly Dubai and London, and later Qatar, but unable to visit a land that he had so loved, even breathed!
An artist whose brush so ﬁnely captured the nuances of a great eclectic culture, but those very creations not getting an iota of physical space in distinguished art galleries in that very land!
One could agree, or disagree with the charges his critics levelled against him, depending on one’s deﬁnition of rationality. Those in the former category had been most vocal over the past few years so one could hear them from a long, long distance, loud and clear, bang on target.
Those in the latter grouping had been barely audible. If they were able to mumble a word or two, they would almost always get blown away in the hustle and bustle of the din.
Without delving into the polemics of this particular facet, one would rather ask a few questions to oneself, now that Husain is no more. Did Husain love India?
Was Husain a less patriot than those who had been baying for his blood all along?
Did he hurt the feelings intentionally, or whether he just went ahead about doing — what all he painted — at the call of the artist within him? And, if he had indeed hurt the feelings intentionally, did he ever say he was not ready to disown some of his own works, or that he was unwilling to tender an apology? Also, did he not face the ire of the members of his own community on account of his creations, albeit a ﬁlm called Meenaxi:
A Tale of Three Cities, and not a few pieces of painting that had earned him the ire of a section of the majority community? And now a question for those who loved him: did they do enough to convince the 90-plus man to catch the next ﬂight back home, or, not to surrender his passport permanently? Didn’t the political class fail him?
And last, but not the least: did he breathe his last long- ing to at least once touch the land that had given him the wherewithal to shine on the world stage like an international jewel? By now, we all know of his last wish to be buried in the land where he breathed his last. So, a supplementary question: was that fair enough?
What his youngest son Owais said, when asked for a comment on behalf of the family after his death, per- haps best summed up the momentous occasion and the momentous man they called the Picasso of India: “There were many absences, but even in his absences, there was a lot of his presence….”
It is this presence that I was talking about.
(This article first appeared on the Edit page in the Times of Oman newspaper on June 12, 2011. Below please find the page)