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MF Husain is back where he belongs – in the limelight

Husain says Gaj Gamini is the mother he lost when he was a 2-year-old. That way he has a son’s feelings for Madhuri Dixit. 

MF Husain (the MF stands for Maqbul Fida) but some call it Madhuri par Fida, is a dandy, a self-confessed showman. And a ladies' man, whom age does not seem to wither. To lady friends worldwide, the octogenarian Husain is known as McBull, a play on the original Maqbul.

Of late, he has been smitten by film star Madhuri Dixit, an infatuation that refuses to die down even after Madhuri got married to an Indian doctor settled in America. The world class painter says he has seen the latest Madhuri starrer, Devdas, 10 times. Which is nothing much compared to the 67 times he watched her earlier film Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun.

Husain does not seem to have seen enough of her. That made him launch a film project a couple of years ago starring his lady love (full four decades junior to him) and the current number one male film star of India Shah Rukh Khan. The film was called Gaj Gamini (one who walks like a she-elephant). Released last year, the film sunk without a trace notwithstanding the number-one position of both Khan and Dixit as India's male and female stars.

Husain, who blew a monumental sum of money on the project, is not bothered about the loss. He does not have to, because each of his paintings fetch him millions of rupees, and he makes them in dozens. In fact, he is happy he made the film (and saw Madhuri a lot).

Never to say die, he has changed the Madhuri experience from a film into a book. “If you have not seen the film, flip through the book,” he says. But very few people can afford to buy the book. Fewer still can comfortably flip through it, a 47 inch x 8.7 inch oddity.

Husain, who had earlier made a 100 ft painting of Madhuri, followed by the 70 mm film, says the book would give browsers (there is not much to read) the feeling of "watching a grand opera by Fredrico Fellini without sound."

Formulaically titled M2+V=GG, the book is to be released in Paris and later exhibited along with a screening of the film at his art shows. Incidentally, the M2 stands for "McBull-Madhuri", which added to V (vision) equals Gaja Gamini. No wonder, the film crashed at the box office because few Indian cinema-goers have the patience for such intellectualising.

Another reason the film bombed was nobody could figure out why on earth a lissom lass like Madhuri should be called a she-elephant, and her gait compared to an elephant’s, rather than a model’s catwalk on the ramp. Here again it was "his art" that commoners failed to buy.

In ancient Indian erotica, the most voluptuous women had a walk that resembled a she-elephant’s and the ravishing beauties of ancient India 2000 years ago were called Gaj Gaminis in Sanskrit and praised to high heavens by poets of those days. That Madhuri walks like a Gaj Gamini is obvious only to the perennially smitten Husain.

The book is a digitalised version of the most dramatic frames of the film made with the help of "digitographer" JP Singhal.

Recently, Husain startled people with the grand declaration, "Gaj Gamini is the mother I lost when I was two years old." So, is this Madhuri infatuation basically the mother-fixation of a two-year old who never grew out of it? Psychologists of the Freudian school (which does not enjoy a great reputation any longer) could possibly answer the question better.

However, there have been great women to whom Husain was emotionally attached the way a son is attached to a mother. One was the Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, a European nun who lived out her life in India as an embodiment of the highest ideals of Christianity. He made several paintings of the saintly Mother Teresa in the minimalist tradition.

The beautiful paintings show the upper end of her sari she wrapped round her face in modesty like a scarf. The paintings don't have her face but any Indian knows immediately that it is the revered “Mother”. Most even don't notice that the paintings don't contain her face. It was Husain’s way of showing his love to a woman who Indians think would be canonised by the Vatican in the near future.

The other woman whom he regarded greatly (possibly as the mother he lost at two) was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whom he painted while her body was lying in state after her assassination before cremation. He painted her in white shroud marked with 16-blood stains left by the 16 bullets that hit her. He called it “16 petals”, which drew condemnation from some art critics who alleged he had just pulled out an old painting of a corpse in shroud and put 16 red dots on it before recycling it as a new work.

Husain fought off valiantly. Still many remained unconvinced, because he is known to have a great knack for creating a controversy around himself.

The controversy he created by painting Hindu goddesses in the nude in the late 1990s threatened to blow up into a full-fledged civil war between Hindus and Muslims. Like Greek and Roman iconography there is no revulsion against nudity in Hinduism, but political demagogues tried to create problems ignoring the saner advice of art critics and intellectuals who saw nothing wrong in it.

Husain once literally walked barefoot into a huge controversy earlier in the 1980s. He entered an elite club of westernised ladies and gentlemen barefoot in Kolkata. The club management asked him to get out as he was violating a strict dress code. The entire Indian elite rose against the club defending his "artistic prerogative" to do as he pleased.

The latest revelation — Madhuri being the mother he lost — is yet to stir public imagination. The unusual book might create the ripple that he likes.

¯ Md. Zeyaul Haque

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