A "rare genius", "renaissance man", "god's gift", even "sanyasi"- the art fraternity Thursday recalled veteran artist Maqbool Fida Husain with warmth and affection. Mouring the loss of the 95-year-old artist who had the "energy of a 35-year-old", the community expressed regret that he could not come back to India despite a burning desire to do so.
Husain was in a self-imposed exile from India after being targeted by Hindu radicals. He died in a London hospital early Thursday.
Artist Anjolie Ela Menon, who had a long association with Husain, said she always considered him immortal because of his sheer energy.
“I considered him immortal because of the sheer energy he had. He walked upright..he was full of energy of a 35-year old. Time seems to have stood still as far as his energy, his work and his persona was concerned. I can't bear the idea of ever thinking of him not being there,” Menon said.
Remembering some of the moments spent with the man, who rose from painting film billboards to become one of the world's most celebrated artists, she said: “Last time I saw him it was in Dubai.
"A whole lot of artists had gone and he took us out for lunch and then to see some exhibition and then showed us the big mural that he was painting on Indian cinema. And then he took us for a ride in his red Ferrari. So that's the kind of energy that he had.”
Art curator Alka Raghuvanshi credited Husain for putting Indian art on the international map “almost single handedly”.
“He is called the Picasso of India. The kind of work that he did, the kind of subjects he touched will always be remembered. The kind of attention he brought to Indian art is a great contribution,” Raghuvanshi said.
Rajeev Lochan, director of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), also echoed the same sentiment.
“It's a loss which is irreparable. He belonged to this country, worked for this country and evolved from this land. We as a national institution have always held him in great pride,” Lochan said.
Kekoo Gandhy, the founder of Chemould Art Gallery in Mumbai that hosted Husain's works, said he was a remarkable artist.
"It is a great loss for the art fraternity. He was a genius and a wonderful person to talk to," Gandhy said.
Husain left India after his paintings of Hindu gods in the nude triggered attacks on his works and police complaints against him by rightwing Hindu organisations. He accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010.
“It's India's loss that Husain could not come back. His legacy and work will long outlive the stupid controversies. Anyway the controversies were politically motivated,” Menon said.
“He used to be all over, sometimes in Dubai, then London, New York. He lived for his work. He never had one place of residence, never had a sense of ownership. In a funny way he was kind of a 'sanyasi',” she added.
Theatre personality Muzaffar Ali, who had a long association with Husain, said: “I think it's very sad that he could not return to India. He was an inspiring and a warm person. He always had a smile and was a fantastic conversationalist. And had great sense of poetry”.
Author and socialite Shobha De who met the ailing artist in the hospital two days before he died, said: “I met him two days ago in the hospital, he was very frail but with a lively mind. He longed for India and everything about India.
“We should forget all about the controversies. He was the most misunderstood man of our time. We should honour the memory of the man and give him state recognition, more than what he has already received,” she added.
Advertising guru Alyque Padamsee termed Husain a "renaissance man".
"He was a genius and such people are not found in 1,000 years. He was God's gift to the painters' fraternity. It is a great loss for India and the world of art. It was a great experience to have a conversation with him. I pray that his soul rest in peace," he said.
Bollywood actor Amrita Rao, the only other actress after Taboo and Madhuri Dixit who Husain wanted to make a film with, said she regretted not being able to work with him.
"I regret that the film did not take off and he had to leave India," she said.
Akhil Sibal, attorney for Husain, said: “He (Husain) was constantly in and out of hospital in the last one month. I met him couple of months ago and he has always expressed his great love for the country and a desire to return. He had a conviction that he will return.”
Safdar Hasmi memorial trust, a Delhi-based cultural organisation, said in a statement: "He had made a signal contribution in reworking the aesthetic traditions of India including especially the tradition of iconographic innovation. He is among those few modern artists who had focused on mythological and epic narratives, and painted themes from the epics in literally thousands of paintings and drawings."
Sarayu Doshi, Mumbai-based art curator who was closely associated with Husain, said it was unfortunate that despite yearning to come to India to spend his last days, he could not.
Doshi, who is also fondly known as the high priestess of art, said the world had lost one of the best painters.