M.F. Hussain: The Sufi Painter

September 11, 2011 at 9:15 AMSep (Cinema, Literature, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A young boy currently an internee in a newspaper asked me “Isn’t this like celebration?” surprised by the music of the band playing catchy dance numbers of bollywood, to which the gathering danced. He, I think, thought there would be two minutes of silent prayer for the departed soul and then some speeches recollecting some moments with the departed soul.

Day: 2 July 2011. Event: Tribute to Maqbool Fida Hussain. Venue: V.P. House lawns. Organizer: SAHMAT.

Having gathered first at the Dhoomimal Art Gallery, at Connaught Place, where outside the gallery two murals painted by Hussain stands, artists, friends and admirers of Hussain lit lanterns, unfolded umbrellas and wore t-shirts with portraits of Hussain and boarded a train to V.P. House. Most of the young ones, in the gathering, chose to walk barefoot, like Hussain did during his lifetime. At the Dhoomimal Gallery some of Hussain’s original works like Bhopal, depicting the Bhopal gas tragedy, the death if Kennedy were displayed.

Once all gathered at the lawns of V.P. House, decorated by banners holding newspaper clips paying tribute to Hussain, installation of lanterns and umbrella- a recurring image in Hussain’s painting and a banner with the image of Hussain’s last paintings, the band started playing catchy tunes of bollywood to which everyone started dancing. That is when an innocent boy, thinking of the event to be a mourning session, asked “Isn’t this like celebration?”

What else could it be but celebration? How else do you pay tribute to a man who celebrated life? Owais, the son of Hussain, looking at the dance to the band tunes remarked, “If my dad were to be here he would have said there needs to be more energy in the dance.”

How can one mourn for a man who lived with full life, full energy, till his last breath? Anjolie Ela Menon said, “I had come to believe that Hussain was immortal. That is the kind of life he carried with him. He never grew old.” The same views were expressed in her poem which she recited later. “How can he be gone, he who never grew old?” asked Anjolie Menon in her poem. She added to it, “He reinvented himself till the end” pointing the secret behind the lively life of his and his immortality.

“In relevance there is immortality,” said Owais, before mentioning “His major preoccupation was to be relevant, not just in art but in his life too.” Once these words were uttered one could well connect the ends of Owais’s remarks and that of Anjolie Menon to know what both were saying, differently. Historian Prof. Irfan Habib, who was also a part of the function, said that the greatness of Hussain was in his constant engagement with the Indian civilization, more importantly in not looking at past as the buried but making the past relevant to the present.

“Not just in art but in life too.” Did Hussain see life and art as two different sections? Disagrees art curator Sumeet Chopra who recollecting an episode from his own life says Hussain saw his life in every art of his. “I was once having lunch with Hussain sahib and very randomly said- your paintings which are so precious and valuable to the world, is just a two minute’s work for you. To this Hussain sahib replied- behind these two minutes there are 75 years of struggle and effort,” recollected Mr. Chopra.

Hussain’s love for art and life and his viewing of art as life and life as art, as put by Mr. Chopra, can also be seen in his film Through The Eyes of A Painter’ which was screened at V.P. House as a part of the programme. Life juxtaposed with art, life inspiring art, seeing elements of art in life, seeing life in art- all of Hussain’s abilities come out brilliantly in his film. The editing technique used comes close to the modernist painting. Speak of translating one medium, potentially, into another!

Having recollected the small but significant episode from his life, Mr. Chopra asked “Do you see how he saw his life in his art? His art was his life to him and that is why he left India, because his art was his life.”

Nafisa Ali who was accused of buying the ‘controversial’ Bharath Maata painting was heard telling the media that Hussain never titled that painting ‘Bharath Maata’. It was a curator who titled it so. Speaking of the ‘controversial’ paintings of Hussain, Mr. Chopra said, “How can paintings cause controversy? They are there hanging on the wall. Controversies are caused by humans who see their own benefit in creating controversies.”

“It was his greatness which provoked hatred,” opined Arpana Caur and Anjolie Ela Menon said, “Those who attacked him have vanished but Hussain continues to remain,” pointing his imperishable greatness. Menon also declared that she would reveal all the names of those who led the hate campaign against Hussain, “When the time is ripe” which as she herself puts it “will be soon.”

The two artists Arpana Caur and Anjolie Ela Menon also recollected as to how, during their younger days, Hussain encouraged them in the field of art. Arpana Caur said, “He bought a painting of mine during one of my very first exhibitions. I did not hope to see it in his Bangalore art gallery, after several years. I was moved,” said the artists failing to hide the lump in the throat. Anjolie Ela Menon remembered Hussain tying bamboo sticks for the hanging and display of her paintings during her first exhibition, several years ago. “He nurtured all of us,” said Anjolie Ela Menon.

A booklet titled ‘On Hussain’ enveloping two articles by Geeta Kapur and Ram Rahman, published by SAHMAT, was released during the occasion by Vivan Sundaram through handing it over to Husssain’s son Shamshaad and a poster of Hussain with the poetry of Naazim Hikmat, was released by Madan Gopal Singh during the occasion.

Amongst these celebrations one could see, at one point of time, Hussain’s son Shashaad in tears. There was s stream of melancholy that flowed underneath the celebration. It was expressed even in the choked voice of Arpana Caur and even in the voice of Anjolie Ela Menon who said, “I have cried as much as I could but the pain remains.” What pain? Of having lost a friend and of not being able to bring him back to India, clarified Anjolie Ela Menon. Arpana Caur remembered Hussain having told Vikram Singh, “I feel like kissing the soil of my nation once,” while in exile.

There is more to the pain, when one listens to Owais narrating his experience while having gone to register the death of his father. “The lady there asked me his age. I said 97 and she asked me what his profession was to which I replied: artist. Having taken a note of this the lady wrote ‘retired’ within brackets after having written artist as the profession. I asked her to rub it off, for he still had his boots on.”

There could have been more to the pain, one can be assured, if Hussain’s ‘dream’ of which Owais spoke had come true. “My father’s dream was to destroy his works. He was against conservation.”

But these undercurrents of melancholy did not dam the flow of celebration, the true way to tribute Hussain, in any way, like the song sung by the students who gathered: “Dilo Mein Gaav Leke Bhi Chale Chalo…” to mean “Keep marching even with a wounded heart…”

The gathering marched towards the CSIR building, holding lanterns and umbrellas, with the band playing bollywood music, where a mural of Nehru painted by Hussain stands.

Before all stood up and marched Ram Rahman, the organizer of the function, recollected the episode of an Indian couple, in a Dubai mall, having come to Hussain on recognizing him, and having taken his blessings for their new born. Recollecting this incident Ram said, “M.F. Hussain is our first Sufi Painter.”

(Report/Article published in the just published May/June 2011 issue of INDIAN LITERATURE, Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal)

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