M.F. Husain

  • Husainsaab, as people called him, personified the turbulent history of 20th century India. The best-known modern Indian painter, he created by his own admission some 60,000 works of art in his 95 years. But toward the end, which came on June 9, he was forced to seek asylum in Qatar, out of fear for his life in the world's largest democracy. He was fascinated by Hindu goddesses, and that got him into trouble with fanatics who sued him under the pretext that he was "hurting the sentiments" of Hindus by painting nude figures of female deities. They ransacked his studio and attacked his children. In the end, he died of a broken heart. India will forever be shamed for the way it treated him.

    But M.F. Husain was bigger than the controversy that others manufactured around him. He was the first local artist whose work rich Indians had the confidence to exhibit in their drawing rooms. Husain took very Indian themes--Bollywood, horses, The Mahabharata--and made them universally salable. His paintings were a portrait, in some cases literal, of modern India: fractured, alluring, energetic and pullulating with the mythology of movies and politics.

    Mehta, the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, teaches at NYU