New Delhi: Pandit Shivkumar Sharma who passed away on 10th May 2022 has left many broken hearts in the music and film industries. Several esteemed members of both fraternities paid their tributes to the Padma Vibhushan recipient who won many accolades through his long and successful career. Of many celebs who were present at Pandit Shivkumar Sharma's funeral, Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain also bade his close friend goodbye.
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Another time he walked into a friend's house minus his shaggy mane of hair. On inquiring why he had shaved himself bald, Husain replied: \"Other people can afford air-conditioning. I can only afford hair-conditioning.\"But beneath the puckishness and the will-o-the-wisp qualities is a serious, introspective person. \"The only thing I'm serious about is my art,\" says Husain. Alkazi calls it a talent that is as great as Picasso's and, in fact Husain was invited specially to exhibit his work at the Sao Paulo Biennale along with Picasso himself. \"I used to laugh at Picasso's 'distortions' in the beginning,\" recalls Husain.Social Significance:There are other indications, however covert, that Husain is a man not unaware of the social significance and the commitment of his work. One example is the exhibition called 'Six days of Making' at the Shridharani Gallery in New Delhi. The idea was to put up six large blank canvases and Husain would paint on them during the duration of the show. \"Let us show every-one how a painting is made,\" confided Husain to a friend, \"some people will consider it a stunt - but there are people who will look more closely at their paintings after this.\"Husain painted every evening for six days in front of milling crowds, unruffled by the crowds and the photographer's flashbulbs, stepping from one canvas to another. The actual works he produced during that six-day period were not as important as the interest he generated in painting. As John Kenneth Galbraith once said of Husain: \"He is a man not only deeply conscious of the world around him, but deeply conscious of what artists in the world are doing.\"\"He paints best under pressure,\" opines Alkazi, who recalled that some of his best work was done immediately after the death of Husain's three-year-old daughter. \"He can paint anywhere, any-time,\" says son Shamshad. Husain himself says that he paints better when surrounded by noise and activity. \"It probably stemmed from my earlier days when I used to paint in the crowded corridors of thechawl in Bombay where we were staying. I never paint in isolation. I also want to encompass as much as possible, so I paint a large variety of themes. I have a vague idea in my mind of what I am going to paint. The form comes much later. There is no such thing as inspiration. That is a romantic illusion. I just know instinctively when to stop and when to start.\"Restless: These days, Husain is in one of his restless moods, flitting from city to city like a human pinball, sometimes out of control, but ever-indomitable. He can be seen dining at his favourite eating places - Karims in old Delhi or his old haunts near the Jama Masjid in old Delhi, Samovar in Bombay's Jehangir Art Gallery. He still surfaces at the five-star hotels and glittering social functions, but finds himself out of his element. Husain is anything but a social animal, \"I'm not a very good conversationalist,\" he says.But part of the price of fame is being seen in the right places at the right time. To Husain, it's just another game, like the exotic women who have allegedly flitted in and out of his life. \"Most of them are just parasites,\" says a close friend, \"they take advantage of his generosity and his naivety, mainly to get a Husain painting for free. Once they have got that, they go on to something new.\"Husain himself does not go out of his way to dispel the Casanova myth, which it undoubtedly is. He is basically too shy, too introverted and values his freedom far too much to get tied down by simpering socialites. On the other hand, his excessive humbleness and his obvious aversion to being labelled a snob makes him a prime target for their attention. As far as the women in his life are concerned, Husain seems to be caught in a publicity trap which is largely of his own making.Husain is equally uncomfortable about wealth. He claims that he can never save money, he spends most of it travelling about or financing his films. He never wears a watch, which partly accounts for his infamous unreliability and his prodigious artistic output. He has two or three favourite outfits which he alternates - an antelope skin suit for winter and in summer he resembles an ageing flower child dressed in faded denims.Enigmatic:But even today, Husain retains the enigmatic aura of a Buddhist monk. Peel off one layer, and you find another, and another. He relates best to simple village folk, and yet has been inspired in the presence of truly great men - Nehru, Jumlatt, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Italian artist Robert Rosellini. The latter once lent Husain five paintings which Husain had painted for an exhibition. When Rosellini got them back, he discovered they were five entirely different paintings.Consequently, most of the truly outstanding Husain paintings are with private collectors, who are reluctant to part with them merely because they are unsure of what they will get back. Some masterpieces are in the artist's personal collection, the ones that he refuses to part with at any cost.As a businessman, however, Husain is incredibly naive. He once almost signed a life contract to sell all his paintings for Rs 200 each merely because he was in need of money at that time. Fortunately, friends heard about his intentions and managed to bail him out in time. There are other oddities about the man that are difficult to explain. He occasionally signs his name backwards, and shrugs non-commitally when asked why he does that.Emergency Paintings: But perhaps his most controversial action was the famous \"Emergency paintings\" - the three depictions of Mother India in the form of three goddesses. The public immediately castigated him for jumping on the Emergency bandwagon - to them the Goddesses represented Mrs Indira Gandhi, the prime minister at that time.To make matters worse, V.C. Shukla, Mrs Gandhi's Goebellesian propaganda minister, had the paintings sent on a tour of the country, plugging them as Husain's view of the lady. Husain had a premonition that his paintings would be misrepresented, and had prepared a special brochure explaining the idea behind the works. \"The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting exploited the paintings to get publicity for the Emergency. I am not interested in politics,\" he says. Another close friend says that \"it was not sycophantic. It was her (Mrs Gandhi's) predicament he was portraying. Nobody can deny that the lady was riding a tiger in those days.\"Though entirely apolitical, Husain is often inspired by events. The moon landing by Armstrong inspired three paintings as was hisCyclonic Silence a fall out from the Andhra Pradesh cyclone. According to Alkazi, one can work out Husain's entire story from his paintings. \"You can discover things he wants to reveal and also things he wants to conceal.\"By now, Husain is quite accustomed to having people theorize about him and his work. \"I'm basically a very simple person, not as complex as others make me out to be. I may be uncommunicative, but I'm not going to change my ways to suit other people,\" he states. That is the manner of a man who has arrived, and if Husain has arrived, which he undoubtedly has, than Indian art has arrived, for the two are firmly entwined.What is puzzling critics and admirers alike is which direction is Husain heading in now? For a man who has encompassed so many artistic horizons, whose unpredictability is legendary, it is not an easy question to answer. Ten years from now, Husain might switch artistic horses in mid-stream and branch out into something entirely different. Like his art, the man is ageless.