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 catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers 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 internalised 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.