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Spiritual Meditations ( 23 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Portrait of a Barefoot Artist

By Muzaffar Ali

Jun 21, 2011

The street holds many wonders for us if we keep our eyes and ears open. One such sight could be to see M.F. Husain walking down. Such men are not born every day and when they go they leave a void.

“When a great man dies it is the day he is born. Unfortunately he has no way of seeing his greatness that day”.

Said my 20-year-old daughter Sama when she saw media plastered with news of Maqbool Fida Husain passing away.

I did not realise how so many people knew him so intimately and how he was part of so many peoples’ lives. I too did not realise how intimate he made me feel over the period of nearly four decades I knew him. He was indeed a great communicator. He was as imaginative in words as he was in form and colour. He was as articulate in Urdu as he was in English. He thought in both with equal creativity. He was one of the most successful storytellers of this age.

While he reminiscences about Pandharpur, he also sweeps across borders and continents, across colonialism and imperialism, mythology and history. He spoke as beautifully and emotionally as we wrote. I remember his soft and roguish voice reciting Urdu poetry and telling stories over the years so vividly that I feel he is still talking to me. While he lived I kept taking him as a man of the world, a great marketing genius but as he is gone I hear his voice distinct and different from any voice I have heard, except the voice of my parents. Through this voice I share many of my passions with him. From the mundane to the mystical. From cars to Caravanserais. From horses to Hindi cinema. From lost cultures and civilisations to wealth of the nouveau riche. And it was from the newly acquired wealth of nations and individuals that Husain grew from strength to strength. He made them feel cultured and civilised which they had lost on the fast track to wealth. He had something in his art that made them believe in it.

The greatest thing about Husain was the confidence in the stroke of his brush that brought about this faith. He never faltered, stood alert and ready to take off like his horse. He saw his art from a distance, like the conditioning of billboard artist. This made him instant and prolific.

Besides a regular evolution of a muse, he was faithful to symbols and toys. And as he grew, his toys and symbols found places in history and became larger than life. And as he became bankable he left everyone leagues behind.

But the Husain who speaks to me is a gentle and playful philosopher, down to earth, yet up in the sky. He would go into the deeper meaning of the cause and effect of artistic expression and make it an easy mantra for success. “Na aane ki khushi na jaane ka gam, kamaye duniya, khayen hum”, said he to me, as he was dropping me for a meeting, after lunch in his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce in London. He said “sab filmmaking waking chhodiye, isme doosron ki chamcha giri karna parti hai. Main kehta hun painting kijeye”. Shaking the No 12 brush in his hand he added “this will give you independence!”

“But I take ages to do a painting and then I don’t want to part with it”, he guffawed “jaldi wali kya hai, logon ko koi farak nahin padta!”

I have had a lot to share with Husain Saab. I saw the Jama Masjid and Bhindi Bazaar culture through his eyes. He didn’t go there only to eat but to feast his eyes on life. Lives of lively bindaas people existing from day to day with the passion and excitement of what they do, or just the laid-back lazy way in which they talked about life.

Tea was the common bond. That tea was made of gossip and brewed in humour. It tasted of forgiveness. Gratitude. This tea was timeless as its steam blended into the azaan five times a day and was left to become cold till the faithful returned from the Masjid. Husain poured forth his doodles on napkins and the guest book at Karims as he walked out barefoot into the crowded street, where there was always way for him. And one felt proud being with him. He always made you feel equal walking with. There was no Banda no bandanawaz, no Mahmud, no Ayaz.

He was a man of his own free will, did not conform to anyone’s agenda and yet belonged to everyone. I am a testimony to this quality and I am sure there are thousands of people like me who will agree with me. You almost felt that he was making the earth sacred by walking on it barefoot. And this was across the globe — universal.

I have a fetish for walking barefoot at home and when someone enters with their shoes I feel a grainy feeling under my feet. But when a barefoot person from outside walks in his feet are pure. So whenever Husain came home I got this feeling.

The other evening as part of a friend’s 65th birth celebrations bhajans were being sung; a large porcelain, silver and crystal Hanuman adorned the podium with a flame lighting his form and features. And all around were paintings of Husain. I realised how much a part of a religious Hindu household Husain was.

Husain was always someone who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. And this is how he will be remembered. Not anyone can afford a Husain but everyone can learn from how freely he lived.

Ham to kuch dene qaabil kahan hain Waali

Haan koi chaahe to jeene ki ada le jaye

Waali Arsi

What can I give to anyone O Waali? Yes, if they wish they can take the way I have lived...

The author is a filmmaker and painter. He is the executive director and secretary of the Rumi Foundation .

Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi