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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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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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.