Shamshad Husain is no more. May his soul rest in peace. He has been taken ill for over a year and was residing with his sister, Raisa Husain in Mumbai. Born in 1946, Shamshad Husain carried the illustrious surname, Husain attached to his first name Shamshad, which was at once a boon and a curse. When fathers are larger than life figures, sons struggle to match up in size and quality. And with all due respect to the memories of the departed artist, Shamshad Husain, son of the eminent painter, M.F.Husain, Shamshad could never come out of the weight of the image of his father. To take a cue from the myth of Yayati, father Husain grew young as the son Husain grew old, desolate and weak both in life and work. Perhaps, he was giving the life sap to his father. When the pall death looms large over our heads, anything, a piece of myth comes handy to solace ourselves for the dead do not come to know what we think about them.
News came through a phone call. At the other end it was a stream of reminiscences about the departed soul. I raked up in my memory to know where and when I had met Shamshad first in my life. In those days, there was a gallery called Art Today, an ill-timed start up in the Indian art scene which had to down it shutters at its prime location in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place. Had it been there it would have led the art market in India for it had everything that a contemporary market needed then; right from modern, contemporary and cutting edge art to souvenir prints signed by artists, mugs, cushions, rugs and books on art, everything unheard of in the Indian art scene till then. It was there in 1995, I met Shamshad Husain. Black pants and tucked in black shirt with conspicuous white buttons, a glass rum in hand, Shamshad Husain was there amongst his friends chatting away. We, the strugglers or youngsters or as it had gone in those days, struggling youngsters gawked at that artist who had carried the name, Husain in his own name. The knowledge was quite exciting. We were post-moderns and thoroughly irreverent in those days but we were not yet grown out of the fame and glamour of the moderns. Looking back, it is difficult to say we have ever grown out of that awe till date.
(Shamshad Husain with one of his paintings)
Housed in the same building was and is Dhoomimal Art Gallery, one of the first galleries in Delhi with the Kumar Art Gallery in Sundar Nagar. Shamshad was a regular fix there. Slowly, we the strugglers or the struggling youngsters understood the patterns of exhibition openings. There were open invitations and there were closed invitations. Shamshad was a recipient of all kinds of invitations. He partied silently by sipping his rum slowly but steadily with his selected group of friends in all the openings. Shamshad did not discriminate the big openings and small openings. He graced all the openings with his presence. His affinity was not for the artists who exhibited in those shows. But he loved all the gallerists and peer group artists. He was boisterous at one point of time and mellowed down as years passed. The mellowing could be double ended. Success mellows people down, so is failure. It was difficult to ascertain which one had mellowed Shamshad down. But the maturity and calmness did not change his dressing style or his drinking style. He would look silently at everything, give an occasional smile and talk in hushed tones to those who come near to him to talk. But you knew Shamshad was there, as an artist and also as a guest to grace you, your art and your gallery.
Some people are like that. Their presence may not make much difference but their absence would. Shamshad belonged to this category. In most of the Delhi openings, Shamshad was a presence. For the last one year, he was missing from action. May be this missing was not felt or noticed because there was nothing much going on in our art scene. Shamshad also might not have missed much. But he would have definitely missed his Delhi which made him an artist, then a friend to many and man of utter loneliness. Shamshad studied painting in Baroda. Then he was lucky to have training in the Royal college of Art, London. He came back to India in late seventies and settled in Delhi. In 2010, in an interview given to the Times of India, he had confessed his struggles with his surname. But he was successful in growing out of the crisis as person but it is doubtful whether he ever grew out of the shadow and expectations that others had from him of his father. Shamshad painted people in groups, animated in talking. Flat and caricaturish they brought in the narratives of idle talk. Perhaps, Shamshad saw life as an idle talk; philosophical but in its realization, so mundane. He was lucky artist who could conduct thirty five solo exhibitions and gain a few awards including the Lalit Kala Akademy awards.
(Shamshad Husian with fellow artist Amitava Das)
Friends remember that Shamshad who we knew these days was not the same Shamshad of the yester years. In Garhi studios in Delhi, in early 1980s, Shamshad filled everyone with mirth and enthusiasm. He danced, sang and made a lot of friends. His art was doing well. He was working with enthusiasm. But somewhere it struck. Each exhibition was not a conquering for him but a hurdle. The more he painted, the more he exhibited the more expectations grew. A slow lethargy crept in him. He was a painter in his labyrinth. It was early arrival of autumn in the life of a patriarch’s son. None was writing to him but to his father. He thought his love and work were coming out of the times of jaundice. People saw his works through the coloured filter of his father’s fame. Then he condemned himself to the solitude of one hundred years.
In late 1990s, to show his affinity for the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shamshad did a show commemorating the literary works. Held in Vadehra, this show had raised a new found interest in the works of Shamshad. But somehow, the market did not respond to his new series. I do not think vadehara ever tried to sell or promote his works through exclusive solo exhibitions. Shamshad also did not mind. He did not study further to leap high from the plank that he had already set with his Marquez show. He could have. He could have become the darling of the Latin American countries. But lethargy...he was in his hammock, drinking rum and coming out in the evenings to drink more rum with friends in the galleries. It was one of those days I visited him, as a young reporter in some newspaper, at his home near Gole Market. I remember the house was moderate though spacious and was absolutely bare and vacant compared to the houses of other artists. His favourite Old Monk rum was on the table and we talked for a long time though unfortunately I do not remember much of it.
(Shamshad Husain with a photograph of his father MF Husain, in Delhi)
How would Shamshad be remembered in the coming days? Friends will definitely miss him. As I said before the galleries on the opening days of the exhibitions would feel the absence. But what about his works? Will there be an added enthusiasm for his works, to contextualize them in the modern-contemporary tradition? I think there will be, fortunately or unfortunately for the same surname. An art market that finds a perverted pleasure in cannibalism and necrophilia, definitely loves a dead artist over a living one. This will start with a retrospective of Shamshad Husain. Then a few works will come into the auction circuit. There will be an exhibition in some foreign museums. Art historians and critics including myself would overwork to put his works in context. In death, Shamshad would get what life could not give him; fame of his own. It is not wrong thing. One has to be paid his due for he has lived on this earth and worked. Our job is nothing but tracing his paths and see how deep his footprints are! As Arundhati Roy in her God of Small Things said, when a person dies, he or she leaves a hollow in the air in his shape. If you chance upon a hollow in the shape of Shamshad Husain, in one of those openings in galleries, do not feel spooked. Dead people do not go away till they are not given their due.