Maqbool Fida Hussain: End of a legacy

London, June 9 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS) Maqbool Fida Husain, India’s most celebrated painter, the eternal Bohemian and a man of controversies for his artistic liberties with Hindu goddesses that forced him to live abroad in self-exile in his twilight years, is dead, reports from London said on Thursday. He was 95.

The artist fraternity across the world and especially in India is heart-broken as the news trickled in and many tried to confirm the death news of Husain (also spelt as Hussain) in London flashed by an Indian daily first and then confirmed by his associates.

Apart from his art, which are a blend of cubism and Indian style, his youthfulness and Bohemian ways- he was often seen in barefoot- also made him a colourful living legend of contemporary art.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his death a national loss while President Pratibha Singh Patil called it a void never to be fulfilled.

Reports said he died in a London hospital at 2.30 am (London time) on Thursday. He died of old age, his friends said.

M F Husain, born September 17, 1915, at Pandharpur in India’s Maharashtra, was on self-imposed exile in Qatar and UK among other places after he got death threats.

With the acceptance of Qatar nationality, he naturally lost the citizenship of India. But he later said “I am beyond physicality” when questioned on feelings of losing Indian citizenship.

Venue depicting his works had been ransacked too in India.

According to Forbes magazine, this self-taught artist  has been called the “Picasso of India”.

He has two daughters and three sons from his marriage in 1941 to Fazila.

Husain’s paintings, especially his works depicting Hindu deities in nude, angered the saffron groups and some of his works had fetched over 2 million US dollars in recent auctions in UK.

He was one of the highest selling Indian painters. In January, 2010, he was offered the citizenship of Qatar, which he had accepted.

Hussain, who was a film poster painter once, was always fascinated by the Bollywood.

He also made  experimental films with top Bollywood stars and his creative muses like Madhuri Dixit (Gajagamini) and Tabu ( Meenaxi- A Tale of Three Cities). He had called Madhuri an irreplaceable part of Indian cinema.

A man of tremendous energy, Hussain called his vitality a god’s gift and had said he see the world with a child’s eye.

“To me, each day the world unfolds like a magic box, full of surprises, resplendent with colours,” he said in an interview some years back.

EARLY DAYS AND THE RISE OF A LEGEND
Hussain held his first solo exhibition in 1952 in Zurich.
According to the Indian Contemporary Art website, at an early age he learnt the art of calligraphy and practiced the Kulfic khat with its geometric forms.

He also learnt to write poetry while staying with an uncle in a madrasa in Baroda, an art that has stayed with him through his life, it said.

Whenever he got a chance he would strap his painting gear to his bicycle and drive out to the surrounding countryside of Indore to paint the landscape.

It says in 1937 he reached Mumbai determined to become an artist, with hardly any money and lived in a shabby room in a bylane inhabited by pimps and prostitutes.

Initially Husain apprenticed himself to a painter of cinema hoardings which he would paint with great dexterity perched on scaffolding sometimes in the middle of traffic, said the website.

He was a member of the Rajya Sabha between 1986 and 1992.

In 1995, he established the Husain-Doshi Gufa in Ahmedabad, an underground cave gallery which is a creative union between him and  painter B. V. Doshi.

But it was as early as in 1955 that he shot into fame and go the Padma Shri. Husain was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 1973 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1989.

He was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971.

According to his profile in Indian Contemporary Art, in 1967 he won the Golden Bear at the International Film Festival at Berlin for his documentary Through the Eyes of a Painter.

PAINTERS SADDENED

“He was very unique, very individual, very strong. He was a painter from heart. He had an openness. It is really a big loss. He was fascinated by line and form,” said Sanjay Bhattacharjee, a well known painter who recalled his association from Husain as a young artist.

According to another famous Indian painter Anjali Ela Menon, Husain was a real karmayogi.

“He touched my life in so many ways. We would go every year to meet him even in his exile. He was a real karmayogi. All that mattered to him is opportunity to work. Anjali Ela Menon.

CONTROVERSY’S FAVOURITE CHILD

Husain ruffled the feathers in the right wing Hindu groups owing to his portrayal of Hindu goddesses in nude. Though these painters were as old as from his works.

In 1996, when these paintings were printed in Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine, which published them in an article headlined “M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher”, they triggered a big row.

While criminal complaints were slapped on him, in 1998 Husain’s house was attacked by Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and art works were vandalised.

Protests also followed him abroad and an exhibition had to be closed down in London.

In February 2006, Husain was charged with hurting sentiments of people because of his nude portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses.

In the February 6, 2006 issue of India Today an advertisement titled “Art For Mission Kashmir” created a controversy for his depiction of Mother India in nude.

The ad featured a painting of Bharatmata (Mother India) as a nude woman posed across a map of India with the names of Indian states on various parts of her body.

In the face of a huge protest by the Hindu groups, Husain apologised and promised to withdraw the painting from an auction though it was later found on his official website.

A series of cases were brought against him and a court case related to the alleged obscene depiction of Hindu goddesses in his paintings resulted in issuing a non-bailable warrant against Husain after he failed to respond to summons.

He also received death threats around this time. He then started living in Dubai, London and last year accepted the citizenship offer of Qatar, an act which was also criticized because of his liberal views vis-a-vis Qatar’s Islamic character.

A recent Supreme Court order had suspended an arrest warrant for Hussain, who had wanted to return to India but did not get enough support from the Indian government.

Cases against him were also dismissed by the Delhi High Court.

“It is very, very sad. There was threat to his life. But the rest of the country also did not say you come back, we protect you. In our country we are not bothered about anybody, that is the real thing today,” said noted painter Jatin Das.

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