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Monday , June 13 , 2011
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Pudding & paintings on MF wish list

London, June 12: M.F. Husain, whose final resting place is in a leafy glade in the Bagh-e-Zehra Muslim plot in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, would probably have been amused if Rupert Brooke’s poem had been adapted for him: “If I should die, think only this of me/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is for ever... India.”

A day after his funeral on Friday, his family held an impromptu memorial service yesterday at the Dorchester Hotel in London’s Park Lane, where his friends often took him to have “tea and cakes” and where he celebrated his birthday last year.

MF’s youngest son, Owais, made everyone laugh by recalling a man who was planning new painting projects till the end.

One was a series on the history of Indian civilisation, loosely called “from Mohenjodaro to Manmohan”, that had been commissioned by the steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, who was present yesterday, with his wife, Usha.

“His new voyage that he was taking, through his new series of paintings, started off...” began Owais.

But then he corrected himself: “I can’t say new series (because) there were so many new series and so many new plans. But there was another mountain that was standing in front of him (and that) was the history of Indian civilisation and he worked so closely with Lakshmiji and Ushaji....”

Owais recalled his last conversation with his father at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. “We were sitting on Wednesday afternoon he passed away on Wednesday night (or, more strictly in the early hours of Thursday morning at 2.30am).”

Owais asked his father: “Dad’s what your... us project ka kya karna hai (what’s happening to that project)? I was shooting things...” (Owais had been filming his father from time to time).

He remembered his father’s reply: “He said, ‘Wo hum March 2012 may karenge (we will do that in March 2012)... we will travel to Venice and we will go here and go there.’ He never stopped planning. The next day when the family went to fill up the register and get a (death) certificate, she (the registrar) was writing, ‘What’s the profession?’ and I said, ‘Artist’. She said, ‘What age?’ I said, ‘97’.”

(Since MF’s date of birth is generally accepted as being September 17, 1915, he was technically 95 when he died. But towards the end, MF was much taken by the calculation that he had reached his 100th birthday according to the Islamic calendar and would tell his friends: “I am 100, you know!”)

Owais carried on with his anecdote: “She wrote, ‘Artist,’ and next to it she wrote in brackets, ‘Retired.’ (I said), ‘Scratch it off’.”

There was loud laughter in the room, as Owais summed up: “This guy was in his boots.”

Among MF’s closest friends is the art collector, Anwar Siddiqui, whose wife, Kiki, is inconsolable that she will now never be able to fulfil the artist’s desire to have “bread & butter pudding”.

Anwar told The Telegraph: “I told Husainsaab that, ‘We can’t make it at home and we don’t know anyone who can but next time I will pick up bread & butter pudding from MS (Marks & Spencer). Their bread & butter pudding is very good.’ Now, my wife keeps crying and crying that she was not able to give him bread & butter pudding.”

On a more serious note, K.P. Singh, chairperson and CEO of DLF, for whom MF did a large ceiling mural at the group’s headquarters in Delhi, disclosed he had taken up the question of the artist’s security in a telephone call to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission.

Within two hours, “Montek rang back after speaking to the Prime Minister. It was agreed that Husain would be given Z security”.

Anwar explained to The Telegraph today why MF was not reassured: “He was a free bird. He could not live with Z security. He could not be tied down even by his own family. And he felt there was nothing to stop a semi-literate goon from taking a potshot at him.”

Whatever the reason, what can be detected among many thoughtful leaders of the Indian community in the UK is a sense of unease, shame even, that MF died in London, deeply disappointed at being unable to go back to India.

Anwar spoke with passion: “The government should have gone to him and said, ‘Forget this Qatar thing. Come back, you are Indian and bloody well belong to India.’ ”

No one, possibly not even MF, could offer an accurate estimate of the number of paintings the artist had done.

“He painted for 70 years,” Anwar pointed out.

He reckoned the figure was “certainly more than 20,000”, and could even be “30,000 or 40,000”.

At the Dorchester yesterday, Anwar revealed that one of MF’s many followers in Calcutta, a city where the artist had spent some of his happiest and most productive years Ashoke Mukherjee, chief of audio systems maker Sonodyne was telephoning him daily to express “frustration at being unable to be in London because of a bad back”.

Anwar read out an email sent by Yusuf Hamied, the head of Cipla: “Somewhere today, a lone brush lies sad, restless and thirsty, grieving in the knowledge that the one set of fingers that wielded it to create many a masterpiece, will never hold it again.”

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