ALI PETER JOHN
What did we give one of the most illustrious, noble and gentle geniuses of our country and all that he had done for the country and did mother India proud? We gave him devilish, fiendish and heinous threats. We threatened to cut off his fingers, chop of his hands and kill him and all these “noble” acts for prices quoted by men and women who run slaughter houses for human beings in Independent India, in India which is considered a temple of free expression and thought, a great democratic country.
The highest courts of the land found him innocent and had exonerated him of what his enemies called his “crime”, but he had people chasing him, people who had the courage to defy all laws, break all the laws of the country and run their slaughter houses and no one, no fighters for the freedom of expression, no forces of any government at the state or the central level and no vociferous voices which rise only when they feel assured of a place on page 3 or any other space, even if it is available for a heavy price have had the courage or the time to fight for a man who is considered one of the greatest assets of India. Yes, I am talking about Maqbool Fida Husain, the Pandharpur-born Indian the world recognizes and salutes as one of the greats of this century and we only think of drawing his blood and hungering for his life. On his 99th birthday (September 17), I look back with love on a man who came into my life as one of my most precious treasures…
Husain was fearless in the face of all odds but his family, friends and admirers cared for him and his life and had pleaded with him to flee the country of his birth, his motherland. Husain had been living in forced exile in Dubai before his death. He was treated like royalty by the Sheikh of Dubai. The people respected him wherever he went. At ninety seven he was busy working, painting the history of royalty in Dubai. He traveled in Bentleys and other classy cars which our Hindi film stars can only envy. He was provided with all the luxuries of life.
But he had the heart of a true Indian, the heart of a sensitive artist who craved and pined for the burning hot streets of Mumbai on which he walked bare feet, for his places of work, the Pundole Art Gallery, the Jehangir Art Gallery, the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal hotel, the Irani hotel in Worli, Mumbai and the Adhaar Udipi hotel next to the domestic airport in Mumbai where he sat with his feet up on wooden chairs and benches and sipped the kind of tea which he said he could never find anywhere in the world for the crowds and the madness of places like Mohammad Ali road, Bhendi Bazaar, Null Bazaar and the slums of Andheri where he visited some of his workers who had served him in his mad pursuit, for the parapet at Marine Drive where he sat in the rain and munched on steaming hot “bhuthas” (maize) and the Swati Hotel at Grant Road where he swallowed any number of “pani puris” and finished plates of “sev batata puri”.
But the one thing he missed the most is the film industry of Bombay with which he had an association for more than seventy-five years. Husain started his career as a painter when he worked as a poster painter for films at a studio under the Mahalakshmi Bridge. He took great pleasure in watching the films of Dada Saheb Phalke, Dada Saheb Torney and V. Shantaram. He admired the beautiful heroines, Ruby Myers (Sulochana), Maya Devi, Durga Khote and the great heroes of the time like Master Vitthal, Prithviraj Kapoor, K.L.Saigal, Mazhar Khan and later heroines like Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Nargis and heroes like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, and who can forget his “divine madness” for Madhuri Dixit whose film, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’ he saw more than a hundred times?
He always nursed a parallel passion to make films. He directed his first short film “Through the Eyes of a Painter” which won him awards at various international film festivals. He proved his passion for films when he built “Aaina Khana” in Hyderabad where he had stored memorabilia from films down the years. He kept in touch with films and came back into action when he expressed the desire to do something for Raj Kapoor’s last film as a director, ‘Henna’. He wanted to paint the backdrop while the credits of the film rolled. Raj Kapoor died but his son Randhir Kapoor who took over the making of ‘Henna’ remembered his father’s promise made to Husain and saw to it that Husain did the painting for the titles of the film.
His passion for films reached a new high when he saw Madhuri in that memorable film “Hum Aapke . . .” Madhuri became his muse and inspired him to make his first feature film, ‘Gaj Gamini’ which was an artist’s tribute to the Indian woman who he saw in Madhuri Dixit. He then directed “Meenaxi- a Tale of Three Cities” with Tabu in the main role. He had plans to make a comedy about three young women for which he had already signed actresses like Urmila Matondkar, Sonali Kulkarni and the Rajshri discovery Amrita Rao after paying them the kind of money they had never earned in an entire film. He was fascinated by Amrita Rao after seeing her performance in ‘Vivah’ and painted her in the way he saw her. Husain also made his work immortal when he sought the permission of Yash Chopra to paint the wall of his Yash Raj Studio with a wall size painting depicting his vision of the history of Indian Cinema.
He also showed his love for the Hindi film stars when he painted special pictures for some of his favorites like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Raj Babbar and his wife Nadira for whom he painted an entire wall in their house in Juhu. He had not lost hope till the very end. He played the royal host to all the stars and film makers who visited Dubai and expressed his heartfelt desire to come back home and make at least one more Hindi film. But the butchers of the slaughter house kept their swords and the knives hanging over him all the time. His dream to come back to his motherland where he was always on a quest to find his own mother who he had lost when he was just three years old, remained a dream which went down a grave dug up in some corner of London.
HIS PAINTINGS WORKED MIRACLES
• There are many scenes and scary happenings that those four days in November and all that happened in Mumbai during those days that will be remembered by all those who have survived to remember them.
• One of them is related to this great man, Maqbool Fida Husain. The iconic Taj Mahal Hotel has many reasons to be proud of, but the most prominent among them is the huge wall-to-wall painting done by Husain which catches the eye of anyone who enters the Taj as it was built a hundred and five years ago. It forms the backdrop of the reception counter where people from all over the world first reach and are amazed by the strokes of the genius on the wall and anyone who knows the basics of art stand still for moments or even minutes together and admire it, try to see meaning into it and those who don’t know or have never heard of the name behind the masterpiece ask for the name of the creator and go away with awe and admiration written all over their faces…
• The Taj Mahal was under siege during those four horrifying days, the main target of the terrorists from across the border. All they had in their wild and wicked minds was murder, mayhem and destruction of as many people and as much as possible. Thank God for some of our brave men in uniform, the damage was not as destructive as it could have been, but whatever happened was something that could never be imagined. There was fire everywhere. There was the sound of bullets which kept firing for all the four days and causing endless destruction and the death without any reason which could be understood by normal human beings.
The bullets were so powerful that they could even make holes in the hundred year old strong walls of the Taj. The greatest accident of humanity at the Taj came to an end, thankfully. Mr. Ratan Tata and his men went around the Taj to see the destruction but stopped when they came to the painting of Husain. There was not a scar, a scratch or a mark to show that the painting had been damaged in any way whatsoever. Husain’s labour of love has turned out to be one of the greatest miracles of modern time.
• This was not the only time a miracle like this had happened to a Husain painting. Some years ago, the apartment in which Rakesh Nath, the manager of Madhuri Dixit lived caught fire due to a short circuit when the entire family was asleep. The family could have been roasted alive if it was not for a servant who felt the first stench of fire and woke up the whole family which ran down the steps for safety. Everything in the hall of the apartment was damaged beyond redemption but the only thing that was left completely untouched was a painting of Mother Teresa done by Husain and was gifted to the Nath family and a life-sized statue of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Neither the frame of Husain’s paintings nor the silken cloth over the head of Sai Baba was touched by the fire.
• This kind of miracles had also happened with Husain’s paintings every time his museum in Ahmedabad or in Mumbai had been vandalized or ravaged by keepers of the culture and traditions of Indian culture! Their wild acts had not been able to touch any of Husain’s paintings.
• The late playwright Vijay Tendulkar was also presented with two paintings by Husain. He had placed them in his own private study. Only Tendulkar and his daughter Priya knew the value of the paintings but for Tendulkar’s wife and the servants who did all the cleaning were an endless source of nuisance. Till the Income Tax raid on their house found Husain’s paintings as the only valuable things in Tendulkar’s house. That morning Tendulkar’s wife knew the worth of Husain’s painting and cleaned them up every morning with her own hands. Their house was even bulged one night and the thieves took away everything, including Tendulkar’s pens. The only things they left behind were Tendulkar’s treasure of books and – the paintings of Husain which they must have found worthless.
• It also happened at the bungalow of Raj Babbar. The wall on which Husain had painted showed signs of some damage because of seeping in of water, but nothing touched even a line or a dot of Husain’s painting. Can these happenings be just accidents? Or are they pure miracles? I leave you to judge.