END OF AN ERA M11
‘He was a real
Manu Parekh, artist
He was Husainsaab to me. He was the man who knew how to arrive in New Delhi after a luxurious stay in Milan and walk straight
to a dhaba in Nizamuddin-West.
He did what he wanted to do. Nobody can be like
him. Ah! What man he was!
I had premonition that he may not live for very
long. His death makes me sad, but it also fills my
heart with nostalgia of the great life that he lived.
He, like Picasso, wanted to live for 100 years. F N Souza
( who Husain acknowledged as his guru) had lived abroad
for many decades, but he died in Mumbai in 2002. When
he died I felt pleased for one reason that at least he could
die in Mumbai as he wanted to, but Husainsaab’s death
away from home makes me unhappy.
I saw him for the first time when I joined the J J School
of Arts in Mumbai, around 1958. He had a solo show in
the city. He had a beard, and was wearing a hat made of
cane. He was wearing trousers with a thick belt. I asked
someone who he was. I was told, ‘He is a big artist.’ I was
impressed by his persona at first sight.
Eventually, when we became friends. He told me,
‘Manu, if you reduce your tummy I’ll draw your portrait.’
He was a total Hindustani, real Hindustani. He and his
life were the sum total of what Hindustan stands for. He
was a truly pan-Indian painter. Some painters belong to
Mumbai, some grew up in Chennai or a city like Kolkata,
but Husainsaab belonged to India. He was everywhere
and for everyone.
Husainsaab knew India so well because he had traveled
to the nooks and corners of the country. He was an
Indian nomad and loved India deeply. He was so rooted
in our land that his paintings brought out India in its true
colors. He was a great painter, but he was a fascinating
He was a great painter who knew what Hindustan
stands for and recognized what connects the people of
Hindustan. He was curious, always. He was deeply religious and truly secular.
His genius lies in his understanding of India and its
roots. He could enter into dialogue on Jainism,
Buddhism and Hinduism. He could correct you on the
stories related to the Ramayan, and his series on the
Mahabharat remains my all-time favorite.
He never meant what some interpret about his painting of Indian goddesses. He was creating popular images.
It was not done with bad intentions. It’s not easy to draw
Ganesh and Hanuman as he did.
As a painter, he moved my heart when I saw his painting Zameen. He had the capacity to Indianize trends and
things. Only Husain can put kites and bullock carts in the
He had something inside him that would keep him on
the move. He would stay at one place for three-four days
and travel again. For decades he traveled frequently, but
without a suitcase. He would buy new clothes, colors and
his stuff on arrival in the new city. Then he would leave
behind many things because he preferred to travel light.
He could develop attachment and he could get out of it
with ease too. When you meet him you would find that
the man is so detached from his possessions. He knew
the entry and exit of relationships. Although we heard he
had many relationships, he was attached to his family. He
was a responsible head of the family, yet managed to live
the life of a wanderer.
Husain enjoyed earning big money, but he blew off
money with élan, too. Success sat light on his shoulders
so that he could enjoy himself. Remember how he made
Gaja Gamini with his own money? He didn’t even care to
distribute it properly. That was Husain — he earned, he
Once he told me in chaste Gujarati that he loves and
firmly believes in a very popular Gujarati proverb: ‘Bole
ena bor vechay.’ Loosely translated, it means one has to
market oneself. He understood money well, but once he
earned it, he did what he wanted to.
He drew many critics because they thought he indulged
in stunts. But his stunts were grand. He maintained the
quality of his madness.
He had some magic to connect and remain light. Once
in 1972, Husainsaab, his son Shamshad, painter Laxman
Gaud and I met at his exhibition. He proposed to go for
dinner. Instead of some fancy restaurant he took us to the
crowded Nizam’s. There was no space. Husainsaab saw
an Afghan having his dinner. He went and asked him if
we can share the table. He allowed us. Since it was dinner time, the waiters didn’t come quickly to clean the
table. Husainsaab simply picked up the dirty dishes and
started putting them on the cashier’s table. Then he
ordered food. Meanwhile, the Afghan was getting impatient because his Rotis were not served by the waiters.
Husainsaab gave away our Rotis that had arrived.
Which man can do such things? He was simple, light
and natural. The man lived in his own masti (joy).
The last time I met him in Dubai was in 2009. He was
living in a luxury apartment. He was engaged in drawing
a series. I could see, in our last meeting, that Husainsaab
knew how to be a real Indian and remain Indian and
enjoy life thoroughly, the Indian way.
‘He left India
because he felt
the name of the work, but it depicts a woman with an
animal. I just love that painting.”
The most distinguishing habit of Husain that he
remembers is: “The man was punctual with his namaz.
It was amazing how particular he was about offering
the namaz all five times in the day. It didn’t matter
where he was or what he was doing. When the azaan
(call for prayer) sounded, he prayed. I loved that about
him. He has been accused of a lot of things, but he
always was deeply connected to his roots; to what
defined him. The other aspect was his hard work.”
Raza’s last meeting with Husain was in December
2009; they had put up a joint show in London.
“It was wonderful,” says the master. “We both put up
our latest works. Husain displayed his series on
Mother Teresa. He was in awe of the woman. We put
on a good show. During the show, we exchanged infor-
mation about art and discussed about new artists and
their work. I loved him and his art.”
He regrets that they were unable to meet socially
after that. “I really wanted to,” he says. “I had even
invited him to come to the gallery after the show so
that we could talk over a cup of coffee. Unfortunately,
he never turned up. I assume he was busy. There are
very few people with whom I can engage in an intellec-
tual conversation and he was one of them.”
Asked if he kept in touch with Husain over the
phone, the artist says, almost venomously, “No. I hate
He adds: “It really is regretful that such an artist had
to live outside his country. He truly was a master. He
had to go because there was threat to his life. Honestly,
I think he left because he felt insulted. It is a shame.”
— As told to Sheela Bhatt