Source : The Tribune
Husain is like an octopus with eight arms beyond my grasp, a mountain whose other side would remain unknown insurmountable for me always. — Ila Pal
Yet, as the author Ila Pal take on the onerous task of bringing to life the artist and the man, the inimitable Maqbool Fida Husain, who has captured our collective imagination like no other artist, she succeeds with remarkable felicity. Both the man and the artist come alive with the same feverish fervour with which Husain painted prolifically. She adroitly navigates between the man and the artist, whether fusing both or holding them apart, as she simultaneously introduces the reader to his many dimensions. Switching back and forth like the unfettered man she writes about, she, too, doesn’t carry any baggage. The fact the he was a dear friend, whom she knew for decades, only allows her access to the legend who was most written about yet rarely understood.
Indeed, this is not the first book on Husain and Ila quotes from his autobiography and various other sources. But it’s when she comes to her own understanding of the legend that she chronicles a personality, at once riveting and insightful. Describing him in most engaging terms, she even compares him to different characters from the Mahabharata, yet, not a single word sounds insincere. From his affair de amour with women to his real passion the very act of painting what sets this account apart is how she incorporates it all without trivialising either the man or his art. Indeed, it’s no academic exposition yet one learns so much about his lexicon that served as a bridge between the common man and the contemporary art.
Why Husain painted horses or why mother figure was a constant or why the Ramayana and the Mahabharata figure prominently in his oeuvre she finally takes us to the heart-aching moments. Why and how India lost him before death snatched him from us is so well put that it makes one feel disgusted at our indifference and intolerance. Browsing through those chapters when he was hounded ought to make his detractors hang their heads in shame and his admirers to turn the clock back to erase the painful episode.
As for the artist himself … to be vilified for something that he truly believed in must have been devastating. But it’s here that we don’t quite get the sense of his loss and anguish when he imposed an exile on himself and later opted to be a Qatar national. But then Ila reminds us that he bore no ill-will or bitterness… all he wanted to do was paint. Of course, for those still questioning why Husain painted Hindu goddesses the answer is very much there.
Other tickling queries, too, are taken head on. Was Husain the brand as the world knows him, was he a one-man art movement, was he an artist of exceptional calibre…. she takes us to all the sum parts to build a fascinating narrative dotted with details and anecdotes, and objectivity.
By no means is this a hagiography, only an attempt to unravel the various facets of prism that made Husain who he was. So beyond the artist, we meet Husain, the caring father of six children; the lost little boy, who saw the mother he lost before the age of one in several faces, including Mother Teresa; the son, who was overwhelmed when he got his first expensive set of paints from not so well-to-do father; the lover, who sought refuge outside marriage — indeed all this and much of what we already know such as his ceaseless obsession for Madhuri Dixit, his bare-footed misdemeanour find mention too. And all of it is put together like a screenplay, the film spool unwinding and stopping at significant moments not just milestones.
At one point, Ila may have toyed with the title incomplete portrait but she presents a complete one, fully rounded, robust and truly satisfying. Must read not just for art connoisseurs, but all those even fleetingly or not even remotely connected with art.