Husain’s New Canvas

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He’s 94, but not afraid of opening up to new technology. Artist MF Husain sketches his life out for the e-reader.
MF Husain—Untitled |By MF Husain | Narration by Pervaiz Alam | Jiya Prakashan | RS 495

He’s 94, but not afraid of opening up to new technology. MF Husain sketches his life out for the e-reader.

He appears like a modern Gandalf on an Elvish holiday, except that he is actually 94 years old, speaks unfettered Urdu and wields the magic through his paint brush. He is India’s once-cherished, once-derided artist Maqbool Fida Husain. Husain has been away from his land for a while, and tinges of nostalgia come up when he remembers India at the beginning of this autobiographical e-book.

Khaak-e-watan ka mujhko har zarra devta hai / Khaak-e-watan ki yahi khushboo mere sapnon ko aaj bhi muattar aur gulzar rakhti hai (Every grain of my country’s dust is like God to me/ This very scent of my land lends fragrance to my dreams and keeps them blossomed),’ he reads. Though there’s no news of his return to India, there’s plenty of desire. For the time being, his followers will have do with the wizard’s autobiography, now available in a DVD-cum-e-book format.

It traces the artist’s story in his own earthy words—from his birth in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, his emigration to Bombay, the days he spent painting movie hoardings, the Progressive Artists’ Group that he joined, his first solo exhibition in 1951 in Zurich, the movie-making stint, the Hindu deity controversy, to his current self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

Narrated through the voice of Pervaiz Alam, the story unfolds in the form of 40 Urdu-Hindi poems in this digital version. The main take-away, though, are Husain’s lively black and white sketches. The inimitable crooked lines unravel, through clever animation, as the verses scroll down and Alam’s crisp voice uncorks it word by word. The one thing that this e-book misses is Husain’s playfulness with colour.

The colour does come in one of the poems, but it’s where he deftly touches the controversy that eventually made him leave India. ‘Saari umr kaati husn ke bazaar mein / Woh husn ka sauda karne nahin gaya / Husn baantnen gaya / Is husn ke bazaar mein husn ki avabhagat se kai nasamajh log hasad ki aag mein jalne lage / taane-tishne, yehaan tak teer kamaan khinch gaye.’ (Spent his whole life in the business of beauty/ He wasn’t there to sell beauty/ He was there to share beauty/ Provoked by the reception to the art of beauty, a few ignorant souls burnt in envy/ Jibes aside, even bows and arrows were brandished.) In one deft stroke through this e-book, Husain has aimed at merging ‘age-old sensibilities’ with the contemporary digital media.