NEW DELHI: Beauty expert Shahnaz Husain was Mughal empress Noor Jahan to celebrated artist and distant cousin Maqbool Fida Husain, who painted her like the Muslim queen 23 years ago.
“One of my most precious possessions is a portrait by M.F. Husain. I remember sitting for the portrait till late in the night at his home in London – till almost 3 a.m.,” Shahnaz Husain recalled at the Dhoomimal Gallery, one of the oldest art houses in the capital, Saturday.
“He wanted to paint me after he spotted me in a red kaftan. I returned home with him. And then I forgot about it. I returned to India and six months later, Husain dropped in at my home with the painting. I was not at home. He left it with a note.
“The painting did not resemble me. I told him, ‘Husain saab, mein to aisi nahin lagti (I don’t look like this)’. He said this is my impression of you, I have made you a Mughal princess – Noor Jahan,” a resplendent Husain, clad in a glittering salwar kameez and bling jewellery, said.
Shahnaz Husain, whose grandfather and M.F. Husain’s grandfather were brothers, said she had tried to persuade the artist “till the end to return to India”.
“India loved him. The Indian mission in London was constantly around to help the bereaved family till the time his body was brought from the hospital to his burial. Husain wanted to be buried under a tree,” Shahnaz Husain recalled.
“I always felt that he made a mistake by accepting Qatar citizenship. I am a strong Indian myself, I could never understand why he did it, or who advised him. He cut off his own roots,” Shahnaz Husain said.
Remembering her conversation with the artist, Shahnaz Husain said a few days before his death, the artist had invited her for dinner.
“I invited him to dinner instead. He told me he had a bad cough, water had entered his lungs. In fact, I could hear him coughing as he talked. I promised to cook dinner and take it over to his home in London. He told me to come on June 9. But, he breathed his last the very day. The dinner date was not fated,” Shahnaz Husain said.
She said, “Husain remained connected to India till his death.”
“Even during his illness, he read the newspaper every morning. There will never be a second Husain – he was a class apart. I remember picking up a stray flower which had fallen off his coffin. I have kept the flower with me,” Shahnaz Husain said.
The Dhoomimal Gallery exhibited 10 lithographs of Husain’s art works, including Shahnaz Husain’s portrait, at a memorial service to celebrate the maverick artist’s life and works organised by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT).
The artist, one of the most loved face of Indian contemporary art, passed away in London June 9.
The memorial was also timed to pay tribute to one of Husain’s best friends from his Mumbai Progressive Artists’ Group days, artist Tyeb Mehta, who died July 2, 2000.
The commemorative evening began at the Dhoomimal Gallery. The memorial moved to VP House on Rafi Marg in a procession carrying Husain’s signature artistic leitmotifs.
The sprawling lawns of the VP House, strung with colourful lanterns and a life-size reproduction of Husain’s recent painting in the Ramayana series, “Valmiki’s Vision of Sundarkand” — 30 feet panel of episodes from the epic painted in oil and canvas, looked like a Husain party zone.
“This is a celebration, not condolence,” Husain’s friend and artist Ram Rahman said. A poster of Husain and a slim volume about his art was released to mark the occasion.
Reminiscences were galore.
“I met Husain during my Miss India days when I was in Mumbai. I was a great lover of horses and fascinated by his paintings (horses). But I could never buy any of them. Once he painted a Ganesha for me – and copied my signature on it. Over the years, he became a father figure,” social worker Nafisa Ali told IANS.
Artist Anjolie Ela Menon read out a self-composed ode to Husain and contemporary artist Arpana Caur recounted the painter’s generosity to younger artists.