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Husain: Portrait of an Artist

Husain: Portrait of an Artist

Oleh Ila Pal

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Husain: Portrait of an Artist

Oleh Ila Pal

455 pages
4 hours
Sep 25, 2017


M.F. Husain was many things: curious boy from Pandharpur, painter of billboards, maker of toys, aesthete, the inveterate progressive artist he soon became, and later film-maker and style icon who walked about barefoot with a long brush in hand. A legend, in short.

Six years after first seeing him on a rainy day outside the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, Ila Pal met the star painter for the first time in 1961. It was the beginning of a long and enriching association between an eager student of art and M.F. Husain - a journey that lasted fifty years. This book is a product of that intimate relationship.

Filled with anecdotes about his charisma, his sharp wit, his sense of wonder about the world at large and his insatiable hunger for love, this warm and personalised biography traces his evolution through his many avatars. It attempts to unravel the enigma of M.F., who is considered the master of contemporary Indian art, and the auctions of whose works at Christie's and Sotheby's changed the Indian art market forever. It also delves into the artist's exile from his homeland at the fag end of his life, exploring the question of creative licence in a climate where people's sentiments are easily hurt and where censorship rules the roost like never before.

Husain: Portrait of an Artist gives us an up close and personal look at the life of a great painter who was hated and admired by millions alike - the one and only Maqbool Fida Husain.

Sep 25, 2017

Tentang penulis

A self-taught painter, Ila studied briefly at J.J. School of Arts and worked with M. F. Husain before she had her first one-man show in 1962. She has had numerous solo shows since, in places such as Pundole Art Gallery, Chemoulds Art Gallery, Washington Art Association, Connecticut, U.S.A, Clarksville Galleries, New York, Jehangir Art Gallery, Vadehera Art Gallery, besides participating in many prestigious group shows. She is a recipient of a Silver Medal and a Diploma at the International Exhibition of Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, Paris. Many charitable organizations and auction houses including Sotheby's have auctioned her works.

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Husain - Ila Pal




t was on a rainy day in 1955 that I first saw Husain saheb. He was standing in the portico of the Jehangir Art Gallery, and I was across the road, waiting for the downpour to end. Perhaps he too was waiting.

‘Want to meet him?’ A fellow student from my college asked.

‘No … how can I?’

Six years passed since then, but I could not forget the tall wiry man, with a salt-and-pepper beard, dressed in narrow drainpipe pants and a long-sleeved black T-shirt. By that time he had become very well known. I had seen his paintings and I was both intrigued and fascinated by them. Besides, he was the only one who had been able to give a form to how I had visualized a painter, ever since I had started painting.

Then in 1961, on a morning that was equally wet, I mustered the courage to go to Husain’s studio at Bhulabhai Desai Institute on Bhulabhai Desai Road. I loitered around for a long time, peering into the studios of other painters who worked there, looking at their paintings, until I arrived at Husain’s. Once again, I felt hesitant, but the door was open and the place was crammed with paintings, and I could not stop myself from entering it.

Husain walked in presently, carrying a can of linseed oil. He looked around for a tumbler, poured some oil into it and turned around to pick up a colour tube.

‘What are you doing here?’ Surprised at the sight of a stranger sitting nonchalantly on his stool, he half-uttered, half-gesticulated.

‘Looking at you; your paintings,’ I replied. Then, before he could register, I asked: ‘Will you come and have a look at my paintings?’

His face broke into an amused smile as he nodded his assent.

The following morning, I eagerly waited at our gate, my eyes scanning the pavement, searching for Husain. Instead, a black Hillman pulled up, and Husain alighted from the driver’s seat. Immediately, a myth – that all true artists must be poor – was busted. This was to be followed by several others during our close association of thirty years.

Keen but self-conscious, I showed him my oil paintings one after another, taking special care to show only those which had won prizes in the university. But his fingers kept digging through my other drawings, the ones I had tucked firmly below the oils done on paper.

‘Do you think I can be an artist – a painter some day?’ I asked wistfully.

‘You already are one,’ he replied.

That this one sentence of his would change my life, and resolve so many conflicts within me, was something neither he nor I knew at the time. Not that I became a painter overnight, but in an inexplicable way, I had certainly found my calling.

I was at a crossroads before then, waiting to decide. I had already completed my master’s in psychology and had got admission to the University of California, Berkeley, for further studies. I had already met Devain, the man I married two years later, but was not ready for marriage yet. I loved to paint, but I did not know if I had the talent to become a painter, if I was any good.

Husain visited my home again a few days later, and casually mentioned, ‘I am going on a sketching trip to Rajasthan. Would you like to join me?’

‘Who else is going?’ I asked.

‘No one.’

‘For how long will you be away?’

‘Two or three weeks.’

‘Yes, she will go,’ my mother answered for me.

I was shocked. My parents, both educationists, were absolute revolutionaries. My father, a Brahmin, fell in love with a bania girl – my mother – and despite parental objections, married her on Juhu Beach, with a priest to sanctify the marriage and a friend as witness. He then sent a telegram to his parents in his village, stating that he had married the girl of his choice and would reach there the next morning to seek their blessings. On arrival, when he met his mournful parents and relatives – their tears conveying their disapproval of his marrying outside the caste – he promptly pitched a tent in a friend’s farm and left saying, ‘My bride deserves better.’ And to cap it all, the next morning they went horse riding, dressed in shorts and shirts! The shocked villagers ran after them to watch this spectacle of a lifetime.

A year later, my mother went to study under Madame Montessori in Spain. ‘If you feel attracted to other men, write to me about it,’ my father told her, ‘Share your conflicts and cravings with me.’

They shared not merely secrets, but ideals and ideologies. I didn’t have to read Simone de Beauvoir to know the meaning of true companionship. The women’s liberation movement, its ideas and aspirations, seemed old to me even when they first outraged the world. ‘Why should my wife stitch buttons on my shirt? I don’t fix buttons on her blouse, do I?’ That’s how my father, I remember, once reprimanded his elder sister.

Born to such parents, I should not have been surprised at their decision to send me with a complete stranger on a trip to Rajasthan. Maybe it stemmed from the fact that I was twenty-two, and Husain was forty-seven, a Muslim and an artist with a typical artist’s looks and demeanour, irrepressible and unconventional. ‘Ila, you needed an artist friend and a guru. Who knows, in him you might find both. Best of luck.’ These were the parting words of my father.

Husain eventually became a friend, but that happened gradually. Initially he was only my guru, not the kind who teaches techniques and methods, but one who makes you think, realize your own potential, and one who opens up unimagined horizons.

Our first halt was Bundi, an old city, with a tall fort in the centre and cobbled alleys all around, where people were confined within the traditions and taboos established by their forefathers.

Every day we cycled into the very midst of those people; Husain in front I behind on the carrier. While the sight of artists like us was uncommon, painting – or the act of painting – was an integral part of Bundi, known for centuries for its miniature paintings. The people there, particularly the youngsters, showed a keen interest in us. They gathered around us, in particular Husain, passing judgement on his work, and occasionally cracking a joke on modern art.

Within a couple of days, however, there was a marked change in their attitude. Their amused expressions gave way to perplexed ones. For although Husain was physically present, in their street, sitting across from the idols they worshipped and temples they thronged, what he drew on paper was not quite what was actually there. In effect, reality only acted as a trigger. Husain was drawing upon his visual repertoire, which he had built over decades of seeing, feeling and understanding India – its essence, its ethos.

The people of Bundi had seen many painters and paintings. A number of families still earned their living by copying the miniatures their forefathers had created. What surprised them was this incredible metamorphosis of reality.

Every day, after returning to the Circuit House where we were staying, Husain saheb would spread my sketches along the corridor and then walk along, looking at them, while I scurried nervously beside him, watching his expression change – the occasional glint in his eyes, his restrained reproach, and his sudden exclamation, ‘Ah! That’s beautiful!’ Afterwards, when he retired to his room, I would look at my sketches again and try to figure out why he liked some of them more than the others.

In the mornings I would rise early to make new drawings based on my previous day’s work. However early I started, the light in his room would be on before mine; Husain saheb would be busy working. And there, another myth was shattered. Moods and masters, I had thought, went together, but in Husain’s life, there was no room for self-indulgence. He worked with the discipline and dedication of a true shishya, a true disciple. No wonder he disliked being termed a guru.

As if eight to ten hours of work, often under the hot sun, was not sufficient, one day he said, ‘Let’s go sketching after dinner.’

‘Again?’ I wanted to ask but held myself back.

Although he sensed my question, he chose to answer it only towards the end of our trip. ‘What you saw by day, bewildered you, made you greedy. You tried to capture almost every detail into your drawing. At night you can only see the landscape in broad strokes and that is the way you start constructing it … Compare the drawings and you will see what I mean.’

To help me surpass my capabilities and push me out of my comfort zone, Husain would make strange demands too. I still remember how taken aback I was when, standing on the terrace of the Eklingji Temple in Udaipur, he pulled out a tin of printing ink and a roller from his magic haversack (the range of things he used to fish out from inside his haversack was ever-surprising) and said: ‘Make a drawing using this.’ It was ten o’clock in the night. The moonlight was not very bright and I had never seen a roller and printing ink in my life before. I was a little piqued at his acting like a master.

An hour later, at Sahasrabaho Temple in Nagda, Husain saheb had tears coursing down his cheeks, while looking at the magnificent carvings.

‘Before we draw even a line, we rush to sign the canvas and perpetuate our name. In the olden days, artists believed that the divine force was at work through them, and that they were mere instruments through whom flowed the energies of the Supreme being.’

This humility surfaced often. One day we were sketching in a busy street in Udaipur. Suddenly, Husain saheb walked away and did not return to the hotel until dark. As I sat in my hotel room, I was nervous, wondering what had made him walk away in a huff. Could it be my behaviour or my sketches?

When he returned, however, he was his usual self, relaxed. This made it easy for me to ask, ‘What happened? Why did you leave me alone and walk away?’

He went to my room and brought out one of my drawings. ‘Look at this drawing of yours,’ he said, ‘and see mine.’ Placing them next to each other, he said, ‘Look at the freshness of your sketch. And mine! I have done this before.’

Anyway, in those days, I never analysed Husain or his work. His being there, watching over my progress, was all that I was concerned with. What people thought or said did not bother me in the least. That’s the way I had been brought up. I would write letters to my parents describing all my experiences, what I had learnt, and how Husain saheb looked after me. The letters would be lying around, and even Devain would read them sometimes, feeling angry and jealous. Yet Devain, once he came to know Husain saheb, went out of his way to encourage our friendship.

In 1972, several of Devain’s close relatives were visiting us in Hyderabad, when Husain saheb dropped in without any warning, as was his habit. A few minutes after his arrival, I heard Devain announce, ‘Let’s go to a movie this evening.’ Then turning to me, he said, ‘You need not join us.’

All this was to ensure that I could spend a few hours undisturbed with Husain saheb.

The sly smiles on the faces of people as I recounted my travels with Husain saheb in Rajasthan did not bother Devain at all. ‘You take delight in sharing those experiences with others and if some people choose to see it all through jaundiced eyes, it is their problem,’ he would say. And all through our association, Husain saheb reciprocated Devain’s trust and affection. When Devain lay in a nursing home, immobilized after an operation, Husain saheb came to meet him. ‘You are going to miss the forthcoming show of my watercolours. That’s why I have brought them here.’

Opening my mind to new ideas and influences, forever cajoling and impelling me to think afresh, our exchanges never slid into a predictable slot. He enlivened them with a touch of the unexpected, which made me always look forward eagerly to our next meeting.

In 1974, a day before my exhibition of oil paintings was to commence, Husain saheb came to see my work. As I put one painting after the other on the easel, he was absolutely quiet. Only occasionally his nostrils flared and his face tightened disapprovingly.

‘Why don’t you respond, Husain saheb?’ I asked.

‘I don’t like them. They are terribly sentimental.’

His usual gentleness had given way to a cruel forthrightness. I was on the defensive … I couldn’t let him demoralize me one day before the show.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said with a pluck he had not known me to possess.

‘I am so happy. At last you have demolished the guru – the role you had thrust on me,’ Husain saheb declared.

More than a decade after he first resisted the term ‘guru’, he spelt out to me why the concept was incompatible with growth and regressive for a contemporary painter. ‘Every new painting is an assertion of one’s individuality, of one’s breaking away from the past and from the masters, however great.’

This small incident removed the invisible barrier between us, and we met thereafter as friends.

During the years that followed, our relationship saw many ups and downs. Acute pleasure gave way to abject disappointment, just as anger and hurt were obliterated by fun and laughter. Frequent meetings followed prolonged periods of almost no interaction; but when they happened, these meetings were pivotal to my relationship with Husain saheb.

There were times when I have felt inadequate while meeting him, having no painting to show or writing to share. Because, the moment he walked into my studio or my house, his eyes impatiently searched the walls, my work table – wanting to see, hoping to respond to something new. On the other hand, there were times when Husain’s emotional and other involvements made me feel neglected because I had become used to his sharing and caring.

It was Husain who had personally packed my paintings when I, along with four other Indian women painters, was chosen to represent the country in the International Women Artists’ Exhibition held in Paris in 1962.

In the days when we were touring Rajasthan, there were times when Husain saheb would suddenly decide to leave for the next destination. This was a situation I could not handle, and Husain saheb would immediately sense it and come to my rescue, to help me pack. We roamed from one city to another, sharing shafts of moonlight and seas of shadows, paying silent homage to nameless sculptors who had created marvels in stone. We wandered for endless hours in Chittaurgarh, listening to folk tales and bhajans, and then left all these behind to experience the place, its history, its stillness.

We travelled in tongas and in taxis with broken windshields. We even waded through a locust storm, when I shared Husain’s stoicism coupled with utmost concern for me. He held a bedsheet in front of me for two hours, while he himself sat unruffled, hundreds of locusts crawling all over him. We also had a lot of fun together during that trip, for Husain had much sprightly mischief in him, as he had his pulsating susceptibility.

I cannot forget the day when, without quite realizing what he was doing, he followed a woman and nearly got beaten up for it. We were in the desert town of Jaisalmer, a stronghold of Rajput aristocracy. The women there are tall, fair and very beautiful. Every morning they walked down to Gadi Sagar tank to fetch drinking water; that being the only source in those days. Husain saheb and I were standing on a street, sketching. It was early, just after sunrise. Women appeared in twos and threes, with several pitchers balanced on their heads, and wound their way through a maze of narrow lanes. Suddenly, Husain saheb was missing. His slipping away was not uncommon and so I continued to work.

At lunchtime I returned to the tourist bungalow. Husain saheb was already in his room

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘Nothing much,’ he said, but already he was chuckling. ‘We were sitting there. A woman passed. Her face was veiled, but her back, her long midriff, the music of her anklets and bangles were so irresistible that I started walking behind her. She let me, pretending she had not noticed me. Then, just as she found herself near the tank, amongst a congregation of other women, she swirled round and shouted for help. I ran as fast as I could, and didn’t stop until I was well inside the compound of this bungalow!’

In 1967, my infant son Ashish was admitted to hospital for surgery. During that week, I got acquainted with Meena Kumari – the famous film actress – who was in the adjacent room. She was extremely fond of children and enjoyed holding and hugging Ashish. ‘You are a friend now,’ she said when, after Ashish was discharged, I went to wish her goodbye. ‘Do come again and bring whomsoever you like.’

‘I will bring Husain saheb tomorrow. He wants to meet you,’ I said.

When we entered her room the next morning, she was sitting on her bed, looking absolutely bewitching, all set for the kill.

‘Will you have paan, Husain saheb?’ she asked, fixing her eyes on his face for a fraction of a second and then lowering them guilelessly.

Husain smiled a self-conscious smile.

‘With tobacco or without?’ Her husky mellifluous voice could really hold people in thrall, and that day she was determined to leave Husain devastated. Holding a silver betel-leaf box in her lap, leaning on a spotlessly white cushion, her eyes subtly shaded with kohl, her long hair loose, fragrant and lustrous – she looked so beautiful, so radiant, that Husain could barely speak. He ate whatever she offered and nodded to whatever she said.

On returning to the car park, I turned angrily upon him: ‘You didn’t utter a word … just kept nodding your head like a…’

Suddenly he got out of the car, spat out the paan, came and sat behind the wheel, looked at me steadily and then burst out laughing. ‘What could I do?’ he said. ‘The moment I parted my lips to speak, kambakht ne is andaaz se meri taraf dekha, meri to zabaan hi kat gai!’ (She looked at me in such a way that I bit my tongue!)

Soon after Husain saheb was nominated a member of the Rajya Sabha, he dropped by our home. Happy and elated, my family – Devain, Ashish and my daughter Anuradha, sat around, sharing his excitement, listening to him avidly, as he narrated the perks he would be entitled to, ‘And I can travel free … anywhere, any number of times.’

‘You already did … didn’t you? Galleries and airlines paid

for them.’

‘Never,’ he shot back. ‘I paid for all my travel. The only difference is pehle mai apne pasine ki kamai pe udta tha, ab aapke pasine ki kamai pe mauje udaunga.’ (Earlier I used to pay for my travel by the sweat of my brow. Now I shall be enjoying it and much more on your account.)

While walking down a street in Udaipur one evening, we heard the sound of a tabla coming from an old haveli. We entered a courtyard where the host welcomed us in and seated us in the front row, while the singer continued, vilambit giving way to madhya laya. With his flowing beard and burning eyes, his fingers keeping time on his knees, Husain saheb himself looked so much like a maestro that, the local tabla player began to get nervous … He motioned to Husain saheb to take over, so did the vocalist, but Husain saheb sat there without budging, a benevolent smile playing on his face. ‘No, please … please continue …’

This went on and on. Unnerved by the presence of a ‘great tabla wizard’ amongst them, they finally wound up quite abruptly. Yet, not once, not even after the singing ended and people began to touch his feet, did he say, ‘I don’t play the tabla.’

‘Why did you fool them so?’ I asked when we were back in the street.

‘I was wearing my beard, my very own beard, and I was tapping my fingers on my knees the way I always do when I am impatient to leave. What wrong did I do?’

This ability to laugh at his own foibles, and that of others, gave Husain’s pictorial observations a rare insight and genial humour. Thus he was also able to give expression to a wider spectrum of emotions through his artistic medium. Actually, he laughed and lamented, celebrated and caricaturized, satirized and scorned, empathized and exclaimed through his art. While his forceful lines express the angularities of men, his colours give body to the space inhabited by living beings, whose vitality it has absorbed.

To watch Husain draw, his long lean fingers moving jerkily over the canvas, was like watching a lizard catching an insect unawares. There was a sense of surprise coupled with stabbing surety, brief moments of stillness interspersed by staggering swiftness, leaving a viewer curious about the driving force in his life.

Husain’s passion for painting was rooted in his love for life. Forever eager to experiment, he was unwilling to confine his life and art to the boundaries of the known. He wrote poetry, made films, sculpted, designed toys, furniture, and even a crockery set with intricate calligraphic design, inlaid with precious stones, for the sultan of Muscat.

Husain did not create masterpieces in each medium he tackled, but by undertaking a different creative process, he constantly rejuvenated his intrinsic creative urge. Through every creation, Husain saheb reassured us that he was still a seething and unrestrained creative force.

In one of his significant works The Voices of Silence: Man and his Art, André Malraux once wrote that if the artist had to find treasure in the cavern of the earth, he must bring his own lamp with him.

Husain saheb was a unique phenomenon, not only because he brought his own lamp and built a stairway to the top, but because he was always, through his lifetime, an industrious, intrepid and humble student of art. This was an aspect that had struck me from the day I first met him over five decades ago, and which is the raison d’être of this book.


The Prodigy from Pandharpur


aqbool Fida Husain was born in 1915 in the holy city of Pandharpur on the banks of the Bhima river in Maharashtra. On the day of his birth, bells rang out all day, accompanied by fervent singing and the clang of the manjira, he claimed to remember. The women who took care of him wore nine-yard saris, spoke and swore in Marathi. The faceless woman who lurks in Husain’s canvases, was his own mother, Zainab. She died young, before Husain was a year old. Then who was it that slipped his tiny feet into his father’s shoes and stood him against the courtyard wall? Who dreamed of a day when the weak little child, born prematurely, would grow strong and big and assume his father’s place? Did his grandmother carry him every day to the bazaar, or was it Anwar Bibi, his mother’s sister? Did she sell vegetables…?

There was a reservoir of memories – some were blurred; like the deaths of his own mother and grandmother. The one that remained was the gripping memory of a silent desolate house where mortality became a fixture each passing year … a house he was afraid to enter until his grandfather Abdul Husain returned home.

Abdul Husain was a self-respecting man who had parted from his feuding brothers to earn an independent livelihood. A tinsmith, he worked all day in his shop making tin lamps, but seldom made enough money to light one in his own home. Nor did he possess a blanket to keep young Maqbool warm in the chilly winter months. Through his life, Husain derived strength and sustenance from the memory of his grandfather, his sole emotional anchor, who fanatically shielded him from the cold, callous world that cared little for his existence.

Husain also remembered the pictures he begged, borrowed or tore on the sly from magazines, newspapers and books, at neighbours’ places and newspaper stalls. What attracted him the most were faces. He would add a moustache, draw a beard and see the face change. Through his boyish pranks, Husain was discovering the magic that was painting, the magic that was to hold him in its thrall throughout his life.

During his childhood, this family moved to Indore, and with it, everything changed. Suddenly his own father, Fida Husain, who had been absent so far, was around. Soon, there was a stepmother too, one who brought with her a world of tinkling anklets and bangles, a world filled with gossip and giggles, perfume and henna, the fragrance of which lay thick over the sheets, even suffused his father’s achkan. With it came the first realization of man–woman intimacy, its subtle and not-so-subtle manifestations, the birth of children preceded and followed by anxiety and activity from which men were excluded, and the most powerful of all – the image of his new mother suckling her child.

‘This was my first awareness of the female form.’ The act was not free from a tinge of guilt, and Husain retreated into his little world, in which he and his grandfather were close companions, a world free of shame, a world full of laughter and love.

And then, one day, his grandfather died. Lost forever were the leisurely walks through the lanes of Indore, Husain’s little hand in his grandfather’s, those unforgettable visits to friends, into busy neighbourhoods bustling with sights and sounds which fascinated the little Husain endlessly.

Settled as a householder and in his new job at Currimbhoy Textile Mill, Maqbool’s father Fida Husain was now eager to play the role of a traditional father, by initiating Husain’s formal education and introducing a semblance of discipline into his life. His wife’s father was a maulvi at Sidhpur in Gujarat, and Fida Husain thought it best to entrust him with this task. Under his tutelage, Husain had two years of rigorous training in the tenets of Islam.

Husain’s routine in Sidhpur was tough. Every day, he had to memorize and recite all the thirty chapters of the holy Koran. Between 4 a.m. – when he was woken up – and the last prayer at sunset, there was little free time. Did he have a drawing book, colour pencils? Was he allowed to use them? He did not recall. He did remember, however, the time he spent in the garden, paving the ground around the flower beds with pieces of broken crockery, watching their colours glisten in sunlight, making new patterns every day. In an otherwise drab routine, this diversion came to acquire a very special place, as did the trips around Sidhpur, where he accompanied his maternal grandfather. Khichri and kadhi, bajra ka rotla with butter and brinjal curry … the food and flavours typical of the region became Husain’s lifetime favourites.

Save a few recollections like these, there was a distinct memory block about the years spent in Sidhpur. Maybe Husain saheb was resentful of the tyranny of elders who enforced such a strenuous regimen when he was so young, so unprepared. Maybe he saw in it a parental ploy for getting rid of him after his father married for the second time.

By the time Husain returned from Sidhpur and Baroda, where his studies had continued at the Islamic boarding school, Darul Talaba, his father’s family had grown. He had brothers and sisters to play with, but all he wanted to do now was to paint. Nonetheless, he had to attend a regular school where his performance was dismal. His father wanted Husain to acquire a skill that would help him earn a decent living someday. Soon he was apprenticed to a tailor and then to a draughtsman. ‘One day my father presented me with an Agfa box camera in the hope that my learning photography might help me to earn my livelihood. Who knows, some day, like Ramchandra, the royal photographer, you might even be called to photograph His Highness… he had remarked.’

‘My first roll was shot on my favourite stepsister, Dilbar. Then, when I became a little more proficient, it was Butul; Butul all the way.’


‘Our maid’s daughter.’

‘But your father? How did he permit you to …?’

Before I could complete my question, Husain saheb said: ‘The photograph I took of the Id congregation from atop a tree impressed my father a great deal. Also, I learnt to process the films myself. Believe it or not, but on the next Id, he presented me with a Kodak folding camera that cost him fifteen rupees!

‘While my family and friends were still enjoying the basi Id, I went off to Naulakha Bagh on my father’s cycle, riding double; Butul in front and me behind, her silver nose-ring quivering, accelerating my heartbeats. At the park, I exposed a roll of twelve on her. While I showed none of those photographs to anyone, I did show off a nude picture to all my friends.

‘You mean …?’

‘No way. Butul’s proximity made my imagination run wild. That’s all.’

‘And the nude, who was it?’

‘Me,’ he said, bursting into laughter.

‘I took my best friend Prabhas to a hillock behind the ruined palace of the Holkars. Then I left the camera in his hands, disappeared behind the bushes, and emerged stark naked a few seconds later. Then, just as he put his finger on the shutter, I swerved round partially and shouted shoot. As my friends went into ecstasy, Such a beautiful back! Such a slim girl! Who was it, yaar?, I smirked. She came briefly and disappeared into those bushes before revealing the other facets of her beauty.

Husain’s father had grown up in poverty and adversity. He had studied under street lights and yet managed to matriculate from school – quite a feat in his family and clan. A handsome man, he grew a George V type of beard that he trimmed and tended with the utmost care. Despite his meagre means, he loved to live in style. He played tennis in the evenings, often tried his hand on a Japanese musical instrument, Teshokoto, and took special pleasure in cooking Mughlai delicacies for his friends.

Husain recalled how, on

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