x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Father India

India's Picasso may no longer be with us, but his art will live on forever.

A little over a year ago, the artist MF Husain said that he would jump on the first flight to India if the home minister could guarantee his safe return. For an exiled national treasure, hounded from his home, it was a poignant statement of love for country.

Today the world mourns one of India's most prominent painters, who died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 95 in London. Many admirers in his home country had been grieving over Husain's fate for years. In recent years, the painter had spent most of his time in Dubai and Qatar, but India was where his heart was.

Husain broke onto India's art scene at the age of 27, moving from painting movie hoardings to quickly become a darling of collectors, his paintings adorning the walls of the elite. As part of India's modernist movement lead by FN Souza in the 1940s, he was called "the Picasso of India" for his original works that were valued at millions of dollars.

In recent years, decades of cultural contributions were eclipsed in the news by controversy. His paintings of nude Hindu deities, especially his painting Bharat Mata, or Mother India, sparked death threats from Hindu extremists and left him facing legal action in 1996. A decade later, he departed India in self-imposed exile. There are few better examples of blind extremism harming its own country. But in the coming years, it will be Husain's paintings - not hatred - that will endure.