Passing on, bare feet… by Pritish Nandy

I do not want to talk about my friend Husain here. Everyone has bored you enough with that already. Every hustler, every socialite, every idiot has claimed undying friendship with him. So, instead, I will tell you about the man I knew.

Husain had few friends. Very few. I was close to him but even I would hesitate to describe myself as a friend. A close acquaintance perhaps. An admirer, certainly. We had lots of fun together. But unlike many of those who hung around him, I knew exactly how much he valued his private space. So I never intruded. We did some interesting things together, however. I held the first Sotheby’s auction in Mumbai where a Husain fetched Rs 10 lakh, an unbelievable sum in those days. We never thought it was possible. But it happened, like most things happened with Husain. Miraculously.

What was so special about him? I think it was his amazing mastery over his craft gained by years of billboard painting which taught him how to use space and colour in a dramatic, powerful way. Most artists are too busy being artists. They are embarrassed to draw, fearing that critics would call them illustrators. Husain, on the other hand, fearlessly used his drawing skills to emerge as one of the greatest painters of his century, teaching us once again that the way to immortality lies in being simple, direct, uncomplicated. Husain never had to pretend to be anything other than what he was. That’s what made him great.

We did a book together of ancient Sanskrit love poems. He illustrated my translations with passion, delight and immeasurable magic. Some of them we published in The Illustrated Weekly, which I then edited. He signed off the drawings as Bhootlingam but everyone knew, at first look, that they were Husain’s. They were scintillating drawings and we later added a few more and brought out a book together. This time, he told me: Chalo, let’s use my own name. It was the third of my three volume collection of translations from Sanskrit love poetry and we had so much fun doing it simply because he never felt diminished to be an illustrator.

He made toys, lots of them. He made fun furniture. He took photographs, did a few books. He wrote poetry and I published him for the first time in a poetry magazine I edited in those days from Kolkata. He was always there in my poetry anthologies because I saw him as a powerful representative voice. I remember a big portfolio of his poems that he did years ago, in a limited edition. I think there may be a copy somewhere in my library. And he made films. I remember his first short film, Through the Eyes of a Painter. It was quirky, intriguing, not exactly the kind of cinema I watch. I told him so. He was disappointed but that made no difference. He kept showing me the first cut of his films. And I kept giving him my views on them, often not so favourable.

We went on long walks. He would take me into tiny tea shops in the dark innards of the island city. They would welcome him like a long lost son. Some of them had his drawings hanging on their walls. Just as I have so many of his scribbles and drawings on mine. He inaugurated a show of my drawings for my children in Kolkata in the tiny Gallery 88 on Shakespeare Sarani. Amitabh and Anupam enacted an old Sanskrit play on the street outside. Those were the days when art, poetry, music, theatre, everything came together magically and we were like a bunch of friends having fun. The entire city came to a standstill!

Yes, Husain was a generation older. But we shared one thing in common: Our love for attempting different things. He was not just a painter as I was never only a writer. He was bored to death in Parliament. So he asked me to join him there. I tried. But my efforts bore fruit too late. So, by the time I was in Parliament he was out and having much more fun than I did. What drove him always were new ideas, new shows, new books– and the infinite joys of popular art, music, movies, theatre, poetry. He hated pretensions. He never wanted to be an eminent artist. He wanted to be popular, to reach out to millions of people. He adored and envied Amitabh because of the connect he had with the masses. (And ofcourse with beautiful women, he would say in an aside.)

I will miss Husain with a sense of guilt. I failed him when he needed me most. I could not persuade the Government to give him the protection he needed when he was hounded, his works vandalised. Also because, after he left, I promised to go and spend time with him but never did. I thought he was immortal. But even the immortal go away one day.


45 Responses to “Passing on, bare feet… by Pritish Nandy”

  1. I would like to assume that this is what Mr. Pritish Nany believes, since he wrote the following words in his previous blog post:

    So next time you tweet or sms me saying how much you admired my column, just pause and think about the person who taught you how to appreciate what others write.

    Unfortunately I have never known why someone who writes a personal reminiscence in the form of an obituary would ever seek appreciation from the general public.

    I guess it is just a nuisance for Mr. Nandy that there is a comments section open for the post and readers have an opportunity to express themselves.

    I doubt any writer worth his mettle would read the comments to such a post, or even expect too feel happy or sad if he reads them by default.

    Well, I wouldn’t know. It’s his personal post, and his own life. This is one of those posts that doesn’t call for a belief-based opinion from the reader.

  2. Aishwarya Says:

    From what I read and understand, Nandy did not admire Husain. The giveaways in the post that made me feel so.

    1. Husain had few friends. (‘Few’ as in ‘no’)

    2. A Husain fetched Rs 10 lakh, an unbelievable sum in those days. But it happened, like most things happened with Husain. Miraculously. (Nandy is as surprised by Husain’s success as I am!)

    3. What was so special about him? Amazing mastery gained by years of ‘billboard painting’. (Nandy describes his paintings as dramatic . Paintings other artists would be “embarassed to draw”. True)

    4. I think there may be a copy somewhere in my library. (Not a cherished book)

    5. His first short film was quirky and intriguing. He was disappointed. I kept giving him my views on them, often not so favourable. (Not surprising)

    6. He would take me into tiny tea shops in the dark innards of the island city. (Nandy did not volunteer!)

    7. Some of them had his drawings hanging on their walls. Just as I have so many of his scribbles and drawings on mine. (Scribbles!)

    8. He was bored to death in Parliament. (Why was he in there?)

    9. He never wanted to be an imminent artist. He wanted to be popular. (That explains it!)

    10. I will miss Husain with a sense of guilt. (Don’t feel guilty, Mr. Nandy. When we really want to be with a person, we move heaven and earth to do so.)

    With renewed appreciation for Mr. Nandy’s writing.

    • Aishwarya Says:


    • ha ha ha… Quite an eye opener Aish! But, I beg to differ. I think PN adored the man. I have seen those ‘scribbles’. They truly are scribbles which are now framed. Scribbles left for PN saying MF had dropped in and so forth, like post it notes…But, quite enjoyed this comment. 🙂

    • Aishwarya,

      Well read between the lines. And all correct. I think the only bond that Nandy and Hussain shared in common was the loneliness that comes from a commitment to any discipline. Nandy must have been useful to Hussain, at least enough to visit him personally.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Sorry Reader. The below comment is in reply to yours. Placed it wrong…


  3. Aishwarya Says:

    Husain has drawn his mother, his daughter, ladies of his community, poets Faiz and Ghalib, and a Muslim king fully clothed. Durga, Lakshmi with Ganesha, Saraswati, Parvati, Sita, Draupadi, Hanuman and Bharat mata are drawn nude. What was the message in his art?

    The art and its appreciation says much about the artist and the admirer. I hope Nandy has better taste. I feel he was just being polite to the old man. That’s okay.

    I will give the RIP a skip.

  4. Anand Khare Says:

    The way MF disgraced hindu dieties in his paintings, he deserved more than chasing out of the country. He not only painted his worst imaginations but purposely named them to make a mockery. In a country, where there is no blasphemy law, this was the only way out to tackle his uncontrollable imagination and expression.Even 1% of sacrilege of any other religious character by anybody would invite fatwas.

    I could never see any beauty in any of his paintings. To my knowledge he painted only horses and clouds. Nobody understood his art including himself. I think he was doing some other services for some rich women and was paid for from their company’s accounts in the name of paintings. I was personally annoyed with him because of his outrageous comments on Madhuri Dixit and Aushka Sharma though.

    His dependents rightly took the decision not to bring his body and bury in India.

  5. AIshwarya, Anand,

    Lets skip Hussain altogether.

    Genuine aesthetic expressions do not come from a scarred metaphysical character.

  6. First reviews of book in UK:

    Persuasive Treatise Champions Common Sense, Logic

    Debut author outlines modern, rational philosophy that’s objective and results-oriented

    London – Belief systems should offer more than empty escapism – it’s important to embrace a philosophy that is rooted in real life and based on principles that can be applied to everyday situations. Author Sudhir R. Kulkarni recognizes that changes must be made at the individual level in order to do this, showing readers how and explaining why in his critical new nonfiction, The Creator’s Testimony: An Introduction to Applied Philosophy .

    The Creator’s Testimony wastes no time identifying what Kulkarni sees as the most problematic area in many of the world’s commonly accepted doctrines: “It is time to save philosophy from religious dogma and rituals,” he bluntly states, and subsequent arguments consist of an extensive analysis of how the tenets of religion, and the personal surrender that worship entails, result in a damaging loss of identity.

    This “failure of an identity” that religion-based philosophy causes in turn cultivates a greater susceptibility to undue influence, Kulkarni argues, suggesting that an epistemic identity should be the goal before describing what the concept entails:

    I am the one who engages. I am the one who is engaged. That’s who I am. … There is no such thing as a philosophy of death. I am aware of the conditions in which I live. I choose to live.

    Proving that rational, modern belief systems are most effective when stripped of the insidious influence of society, politics and religion, The Creator’s Testimony combines a practical analysis with suggestions for real-life application.

    About the Author…

    • Aishwarya Says:

      About the Author…

      Author heera hai heera!


      Kudos, Reader. Brilliant review!

      • This is written by Carla Alvarico!

      • Aishwarya Says:

        I know Carla Alvarico…like AB’s character Ahmed Raza in Imaan Dharam knows Gullu Miyaan! 😛 🙂

      • Aishwarya Says:

        What I do know is it is a well-written book receiving good reviews.


      • Aishwarya,

        Thank you. That’s not very true. You are probably attributing your opinion about me to the book.

        This one was just a pilot test – a sort-of prototype. Wait for the next one. It’s going to be the real thing. I have 3 publishers lined up in 3 different countries. The IP stuff is very tedious and takes almost an year after the manuscript is ready!

        I am preparing for my retirement! 🙂

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Retirement is a new beginning!

    • FABULOUS IN EVERY SENSE! My heartiest congrats!!!

  7. Anand Khare Says:

    Congratulations. Reader.

    You are always correct. We have better things in life than Hussain.


  8. Anand Khare Says:

    Congratulations. Reader.

    You are always correct. We have better things in life than Mf.


  9. Mussavvir mayn tera shaahkaar vaapis karne aayaa hun
    Abb in rangeen rukhsaaron mein thodi zardiyaan bhar de

    … … … O Painter! I have come to return your painting
    … … … Make these colorful shy cheeks a shade of yellow

    Hijaab-aalood nazron mein zaraa be-baakiyaan bhar de
    Labon ki bheegi bheegii salvaton ko muzmahil kar de

    … … … Fill the veil covered eyes with a bit of shamelessness
    … … … Make the wet expression of the jaded lips more anxious

    Numaayaa rang peshaani pe aks-e-soz-e-dil kar de
    Tabassum aafreen chehre mein kuchh sanjeedah pan bhar de

    … … … Make the forehead reflect the restlessness in the heart
    … … … Fill that happy expression on the face with seriousness

    Nazar se tamkanat le kar mazaaq-e-‘aajizee de de
    Magar haan bench ke badle ise sofe pe bithlaa de
    Yahaan meri bajaaye ik chamakti kaar dikhlaa de

    … … … Remove the pride in the eyes and replace it with remorse
    … … … And yes, in place of this wooden bench, sit her on a sofa
    … … … And here instead of me show a nice shining automobile

    Sahir Ludhianvi

    Translation mine.

  10. Muraliraja Says:

    Congratulations Reader!

  11. Anand,

    And this is what MF Hussain was doing with Madhuri Dixit and company…

  12. I’d love to draw portraits on mirrors, like this:

  13. AIshwarya,

    I am planning to retire. not growing old: Mera Bharat Jawan…

    • Aishwarya Says:


      Tiring and retiring is for the old…not the restless…

      I don’t want to grow old…dying badi pareshaani ban jaati hai…baal…

  14. Aishwarya,

    Just play the right music for me. I’ll be back. From anywhere.

  15. All in one. The symphony of singing spirits:

  16. No matter what, I’ll always be on the dining table:

  17. Meet my other friends: Jai Pataal Bhairavi

  18. Okay tata bye bye… good night…

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