WITH characteristic flair, MF Husain once came up with the perfect selfdescription. “India is a giant circus,” he said, “and I am its rangeela joker.” Given that India exiled him, that image can now include the circus of the globe, Husain still the gleeful jester. Nothing can stop the man. Even at 94, Husain is in constant, infectious, prodigious motion, his fingers drumming restlessly on an imaginary tabla. One day in Abu Dhabi, the next in Qatar. Summers in London, winters in Dubai. He is like a time traveller without a body. He is currently learning Arabic and working on three gigantic projects: a series of 99 canvases on the Arab civilisation; a series on Indian civilisation; and one on the history of Indian cinema. He might have a dozen luxury flats in Dubai and a fleet of uber luxury cars, but for all his Kubla Khan-like wealth, he sleeps on a mattress in his drawing room, and everywhere, he travels alone.
“When chacha is at home, there is no time to breathe,” laughs his niece Sabiha and nephew Fida. He has transformed their lives. Movies, caramel popcorn, concerts, lunch everyday at upmarket Noodle Bar, dinner at downmarket Ravi dhaba, tea at a Malabari takeaway. Husain wakes at 7am and sometimes keeps going till one at night. Fluid, unfaltering, he is possessed of a mysterious joie de vivre — an embrace of life — that borders almost on the divine. But ask him for the key to his life and there is only one answer: “I live to paint.”