Photography

In pictures: The many shades and moods of Maqbool Fida Husain

Photographer Parthiv Shah captures the artist’s comfort with the camera around him.

Many years ago, Maqbool Fida Husain sat at the home of a mechanic – not for getting his car fixed, as most would, but to listen to the poetry the mechanic had penned.

“It was not that Husain was related to him, or that he was doing him a favour,” said photgrapher Parthiv Shah, recalling the moment. “He was genuinely interested in his work. That was the kind of man that MF Husain was.” Shah spent a few years in the 1990s getting to know Husain’s work and in the process, learning more about the artist himself.

MF Husain painting a hoarding. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain painting a hoarding. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

Often described as the Picasso of India, Husain is mainly known to younger generations as the man whose paintings attracted awe and controversy alike. He received death threats for his nude portraits of Hindu goddesses and “Bharat Mata”, India as a woman with the names of various states stamped on her body. He lived the last years of his life in self-imposed exile, dividing his time between Doha and London. Husain died of cardiac arrest in 2011 at the age of 97.

MF Husain with artist FN Souza. Image Courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain with artist FN Souza. Image Courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

Shah photographed Husain between 1992 and 1993, spending time with the artist as he went about his day. Shah was quick to clarify that the photographs were not taken while “following him around”.

“Following someone to photograph them is a very paparazzi-like concept,” said Shah. “As far as I am concerned, it was not how Shah Rukh Khan is followed by photographers, as he drinks tea, drives by in a car with his wife or whatever. In 25 years as a photographer I have rarely shot people I don’t know. While photographing Husain, I was either with him or I was just around him.”

MF Husain in the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain in the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

In the time they spent together, Shah managed to capture on film the many aspects that made Husain – a man who was as comfortable sipping on tea while reading the newspaper at a hole-in-the wall shop, or walking barefoot through Nizamuddin Dargah, as he was when discussing luxury cars.

This tendency to occupy two distinct worlds with ease, according to Shah, came from the years Husain spent painting film posters, to earn his living. “There would be days where he would call me to chat over a cup of tea and that could be either at the Taj or at the neighbourhood tea shop,” said Shah. “He would hop on to my scooter and we would go.”

MF Husain in the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain in the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

Around 66 of these candid photographs of Husain, are on display at The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi. In the exhibition Sadak.Sarai.Sheher.Basti: The Recurring Figure, Husain is revealed to the viewer as he merges with the crowd.

MF Husain at Nizamuddin Dargah. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain at Nizamuddin Dargah. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

“He was very comfortable with the camera around him,” said Shah. “It was very natural for him to be in front of the camera and not be bothered by it and whenever he wanted to stay a little aloof, he would.” This lack of self-consciousness is evident: in some frames, Husain sits alone, enjoying a quiet moment, in some he is engrossed in a deep conversation with a friend, but there are times when he is actively involved with Shah and posing for the camera.

MF Husain and artist Ram Kumar in conversation at Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain and artist Ram Kumar in conversation at Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

In some photographs, Husain obliges the photographer by lying flat on his back, mirroring an artwork hanging on the wall at an exhibition, or while sitting next to his painting based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, almost becoming an extension of the table occupied by Jesus and his apostles.

MF Husain in an exhibition space. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain in an exhibition space. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain in an exhibition space. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.
MF Husain in an exhibition space. Image courtesy: Parthiv Shah.

The images tease out the theatre of everyday life of an artist who captured India’s imagination for decades. The exhibition shows this collection of images that consists of many conversations, travels, accidental plans, and impromptu gestures.

Sadak.Sarai.Sheher.Basti: The Recurring Figure is on at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi, till July 31.

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From Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.