Still sprightly, M.F. Husain celebrates 93rd birthday

September 17th, 2008 - 6:27 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANS)) When he was in college, he was Fida. And friends swooned over him.Once out, he became Maqbool Fida and old friends still remained in love with the maverick artist and his fast Ferrari - the living legend of Indian modern art who won the battle to uphold his “Bharat Mata” at 93 after a 12-year war.

M.F. Husain celebrated his 93rd birthday Wednesday with his family in Abu Dhabi.

The birthday mood, say close associates, was one of optimism. On Sep 8, Husain legally returned home to India in spirit, though not in person, after a court absolved his controversial “Bharat Mata” painting of all stains. This cleared the way for the artist to fly back to the country that lives in his heart like a permanent dream.

The artist told IANS recently that he was planning to return to India after completing a new series of paintings on Indian civilisation, a carry forward of his Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Great Mughal (from the Mughal-e-Azam) series.

India has always been at the heart of Husain’s artistic legacy. “I am a Hindustani. This is the country which has given me my craft; and I still paint India,” has been the artist’s refrain during his long years in exile - be it in his adopted home in Dubai or at his arthouse, the Fida Museum at Mayfair in London.

The 93-year-old cool dude has a lot on his aesthetic plate. He has been writing poems of late and has put together a large body of verse. “I might even think of publishing them some day,” Husain had told IANS recently.

In his poetry, he is the “Rangeela” Joker (colourful clown) of the Great Indian Circus - a man who keeps morphing to suit the colour of the moment.

“Joker” Husain at 93 is a more introspective, silent and probing man than the evergreen boy who created “Gajagamini” and “Meenaxi” nearly half a decade ago.

Artist-photographer-and-designer Ram Rahman, an old family friend, says the Sep 8 verdict has been his best birthday gift this year - a fact that the artist had expressed in his own words soon after the court gave a clean chit to the “Bharat Mata” canvas.

“His entire life has been spent in exile and it is very sad. This year has been favourable. He said it was a good birthday gift. Last year, we had celebrated his birthday on the sprawling lawns of SAHMAT in New Delhi with balloons, bandwallahs and snacks.

“We caught him via the webcam for an hour-and-a-half and he spoke individually to everyone at the party,” Delhi-based Ram Rahman told IANS.

Born in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, Husain, often referred to as the Picasso of India, went to the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. He started his career painting cinema hoardings and courted controversies at the age of 81 in 1996 with his images of nude Hindu Deities. For the next 12 years, Husain’s life has been a long crusade spent mostly in exile - struggling to legitimise his artistic freedom and painting new themes.

He shot to fame in the 1940s as a member of the Progressive Group of Arists founded by the late F.N. Souza in Mumbai.

The vagaries have not dimmed his spirit, says fan and fellow artist Ravi Gossain, who recently paid tribute to his mentor Husain in his first solo show in Delhi.

“Husain is to art what Newton is to science. An artist cannot ignore his laws and techniques to reach the moon. And where else would you find a man who drives his Ferrari at 93 for a cup of chai at the dhaba.

“That is the spirit of Husain - an artist who bought a Ferrari because he could not afford a Henry Moore,” Gossain told IANS.

And Husain at 93 is not complaining either. “Aur paise khankhana rahe hain (the coins are clinking),” he recited with a laugh at a recent soiree.

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