City Obituary – Raza Remembers Husain
On Maqbool Fida Husain’s death.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
On June 9, 2011, a few hours after the death of painter Maqbool Fida Husain in London, The Delhi Walla sat down with Syed Haider Raza at his first floor studio near Aurobindo Market, south Delhi. Both painters were early members of the Bombay-based Progressive Artists’ Group, a set of young avant-garde artists that revolutionized and reshaped the Indian art scene and brought it to the world’s notice. Mr Husain died at 95. Mr Raza is 89.
Seated in a wheel chair, Mr Raza says, “Since one week I was aware that Husain was seriously unwell.” His voice is feeble and I have to sit very close to him to understand what he is saying. “I had last met Husain in an exhibition in London about there years ago. There was great crowd around us and we could not talk much. But we decided to meet the following day in an art gallery, the name of which I can’t remember. I waited for two hours but Husain did not turn up. This failure to keep appointments was the only thing that I didn’t like about him.”
His back turned to his canvass, Mr Raza says, “In art, Husain’s great contribution was that he developed an expression of the 20th century India, which only he did, and he did it in his Maqbool Fida Husain way.” Mr Husain was flamboyant and media savvy. He painted horses, goddesses, and film actresses. He liked being with Bugattis, Rolls Royces and beautiful women. Long before he became one of the most expensive painters of India (along with Mr Raza), he used to live at a barsati in Jangpura, central Delhi. This was in the 1960s. He had a fiat car that he had painted himself. Every Sunday he drove to Karim’s restaurant in Old Delhi to have a breakfast of nihari.
The corridor at Mr Raza’s apartment has a portrait of his French wife, artist Janine Mongillat. He too is in the frame, his arm is on her shoulder. Janine died in 2002. It was because of her that the painter had lived in Paris for decades. Returning to India in late 2010, he settled in Delhi.
“When we were young and in Bombay, there were times when I would meet Husain and Souza daily and times when we sat together only once a month.” Francis Newton Souza had founded the Progressive Artists’ Group with Mr Raza. Mr Husain had joined the club a little later. By 1950, Mr Souza and Mr Raza left Bombay for abroad. The group disbanded in 1954. Mr Husain stayed in India.
“In Bombay, we discussed nothing serious, just life and painting, though Husain was rarely talkative,” says Mr Raza. “I called him Maqbool and he addressed me as Raza. A devout Muslim, he performed namaz five times daily.”
In 2005, Mr Husain left India. Self-appointed members of the Hindu community pointed to his paintings of unclothed Hindu goddesses, calling them obscene. The artist received death threats. Lawsuits were filed against him. A non-bailable warrant was issued by a local court in Haridwar. Mr Husain spent the last years of his life in Dubai and London.
“After living for decades in France, I moved back to my land last year,” Mr Raza says. “Husain was not able to return. This part of his life was very sad. Some of his works offended the Hindu Right. I haven’t seen those paintings and so can’t comment but if I were in Husain’s place and if any of my ideas, actions or works had offended the Hindus, I would have apologized.” Survived by six children, Mr Husain was buried in Surrey, near the oldest mosque in UK.
Syed Haider Raza recalls Maqbool Fida Husain on the day he died
“I called him Maqbool, he called me Raza”
Portrait of a marriage
Artists die, their art doesn’t