Thursday, June 09, 2011

Remembering Husain saab

Walking down the middle circle of Connaught Place, New Delhi, one does not expect to run into celebrities--it's sort of the back alley to the corporate world, lined with rear entrances to offices and the occasional restaurant kitchen that serves the capital's circular centre. We were on our way to the bus stop after a long day's work, in a rush to reach Jantar Mantar before the 5:45 bus to RK Puram. Approaching us was this tall, slim, black-clad figure...walking barefoot, and instantly recognizable behind his dark glasses. Like the starry-eyed twenty-somethings we were, we stopped him and instantly whipped out any paper we had and demanded an autograph. He stopped, smiled pleasantly, and wished us in his soft Hindustani, and signed. While we stood there gawking and overcome that we had had an exclusive encounter with the country's most celebrated artist in this unlikeliest of places, and away from gheraoing crowds.

I have no idea where that signed notepad went--perhaps is lodged inside one of the numerous cardboard boxes that hold my memorabilia from the different phases of my life. But the memory is stark and fresh.

More than two decades later I met him again, this time a planned visit to his home-turned-museum in Hyderabad, Cinema Ghar. It was also an occasion for me to meet another old acquaintance, Khalid Mohammed, who was "hanging out" with Husain saab in the process of writing his authorized biography. The formal outcome of the meeting with M F Husain is recorded here, in The Hindu Metro Plus.

But I left the interview with more than a story for the local paper. It was a sense of ordinariness, a politeness that characterized the first meeting too, that pervaded our conversation. Yes, Husain saab may be criticised for his strategic use of public attention to purvey his goods and stoke his reputation. He may be vilified for taking tongue-in-cheek jabs (and sometimes not so tongue in cheek) at mainstream morality and populist politics. But one cannot deny that his couldn't-care-less-ness is sincere. His only truth is his art.

And I also left with one other thing. A signed, numbered graphic print of his Joan of Arc.