Art for heart’s sake

On February 25, I woke up to the news that Maqbool Fida Husain had become a citizen of Qatar. His son, Owais’s reaction to the news was understandably guarded: “It’s not something that he asked for, the citizenship was conferred on him, and accepting it was his decision as an individual. Only time will tell if it was right, but you have to remember that my father is 94 and not 45. He can’t wait indefinitely to be welcomed back home.”

It’s sad to think that I may never get to see the barefoot genius paint ‘live’ again. It happened at an award ceremony over a decade ago. On a runway at the Pawan Hans airport, on a specially erected stage, with his muse, Madhuri Dixit, in front of him, he filled the canvas with magical strokes in minutes and delivered a Husain original.

He was a regular at our award shows, one of the first to arrive at the venue. He’d slip in unobtrusively but, with his distinctive mane, he was hard to miss. And despite his obvious reluctance, we always dragged him up on stage to present an award. He never asked which category it was in. For Husainsaab, cinema was a world still unexplored and he was ever ready to toast excellence.

One artist to another

He turned director with Gaja Gamini and Madhuri Dixit in 2000. Never shy to wear his heart on his sleeve, he had publicly admitted to having seen Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! some 60-odd times. His raptures over Madhuri’s performance momentarily rendered the diva speechless. “I didn’t know how to react initially,” she admitted, before coming up with a politically correct rejoinder, “It was like one artist appreciating another.” Fida-over-her-Husain reacted by turning one wall of the living room of her Juhu apartment into a canvas for his colours.

I saw the painting, even though I didn’t see this one being painted ‘live’, when I dropped by for an interview. Madhuri had narrowly missed out on a National Award for Mrityudand. But there were no visible signs of regret on a face wiped clean of all traces of make-up. In a simple white chikan salwar-kurta, she giggled like a schoolgirl after passing herself off as madam’s maid to a fan on the telephone.

Muses and musings

Surrounded by bouquets, trophies and swirls of Husain, the superstar raced through the highs of a 15-year-career in 60 minutes. Gaja Gamini had just gone on the floors. Madhuri described it as an ordinary woman’s journey through history, mythology and literature seen through the eyes of a painter.

Quizzed on her own muses, she zeroed in on Indira Gandhi as the embodiment of “stree shakti (woman power)”, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity who “selflessly sacrificed their lives for others”, and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi who “fought for her rights against the might of the British army with her child tied to her back”.

Ageless and fearless

Quizzed about her first reaction to Husain’s experimental film, she admitted that she hadn’t understood a word of what he was saying. Then he had shown her some rough sketches that were his screenplay and she was instantly intrigued.Not just his unique vision but the man himself and his passion for art even at 80-plus. “I don’t know if I’d be able to think creatively at that age,” she had marvelled.

He’s still as passionate about his art at 94. A couple of days ago, I watched him show off his works in Dubai to a channel reporter, then whisk her off for a ride in his red Ferrari. Behind his hot wheels, Husainsaab seemed ageless and fearless. And as ‘young’ as I remembered. I’m glad after years of exile, he’s found a refuge again. Does it matter if he is a citizen of India or of Qatar? Madhuri may have a Husain original on her walls, I may have only a limited edition copy, but I’m sure both of us see him as a citizen of the world.

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