On the occasion of his 96th birthday, editor Deeya Nayar on the one and only
Barefoot Husain. The catchy title of the manuscript had the right effect – it caught our eye. And what delight to discover that the story that followed fitted right into a project we’d been raring to push! We grabbed the manuscript and asked the author, Anjali Raghbeer, to write three more stories about three more contemporary artists from other parts of India.
The stories around the artists were charming in themselves, but we had to go the extra mile – and make things more difficult for ourselves. We wanted children to actually ‘look at art’. Did we know what we were in for? Trying to explain styles and techniques of great masters to children perhaps 10 and up?! Reading reams about these artists and distilling the information, looking closely at their art ourselves, trying to understand, trying to translate simply without being simplistic… Would we get it right?
We had done it once before, of course, for the first book in our Looking at Art series, Paritosh Sen’s A Tree in my Village in its reissued avatar. The renowned painter had held our hand through that one. What now? We tentatively approached Najma Husain, M. F. Husain’s daughter-in-law, hoping for help but quite unprepared for the extent of warm support she gave us. From sourcing the right paintings, gamely changing them when we got more and more specific, to approving the text, she was with us all the way. Even so, when she said she would show the pdfs of Barefoot Husain to ‘Father’ himself, we held our breath. What if…?
It was then that we had our own close brush with the joie de vivre of one of the greatest contemporary artists of our time. Husain laughed delightedly while reading the story, Najma told us. He made a couple of corrections to ‘Looking at M. F. Husain’s paintings’ and suggested we actually name his sister in the story – Zubeida!
It is sad that the next correction in the book will have to be in the note about him, changing to past tense the bit about his continuing enthusiastic spirit. “They can put me in a jungle. Still, I can create,” he once said, and showed to the world that he could. He painted hoardings perched high on scaffolding, created a huge poster overnight by spreading the canvas across a Mumbai road after the last tram went by, covered wide walls with his famous long brush, painted on stage to the tune of music…
We’re glad we published the book in time for him to see it and enjoy it. It is our small tribute to not just a great artist, but a big-hearted man who lived life larger than his largest canvas.