A brush with M.F. Husain in God's own country

C.J. Punnathara Kochi | Updated on June 09, 2011 Published on June 09, 2011

M. F. Husain’s goat and camel, at the Kayees. — Vipin Chandran

“M. F. Husain sauntered into our wayside eatery 10 years ago, in July, when thunder clouds were threatening more rains over Kochi,” recalls Mr V. K. Mustafah, proprietor of Kayees, visibly upset that the great artist had passed away in London this morning.

Sitting on a dilapidated bench, he asked for biryani. When told that biryani would be ready only by noon, he settled for a Kerala parotta and mutton curry.

The iconic artist wanted a leg piece for his curry but he was unable to communicate this to the restaurant staff. So, he asked for a piece of paper and drew the leg of a goat. After a scrumptious Kerala breakfast, Husain completed the sketch of the goat and gave it to the humble eatery as a memento of his visit.

Husain had come as a state guest to promote Kerala Tourism and was staying at the upmarket Taj Residency in Ernakulam city, but chose the old trading township of Mattancherry for his walks, strolling down its historic bylanes from where pepper, cardamom and other spices had been exported for centuries. He relished good food, recalls Mr Mustafah. After his first visit, he came in daily for the next week, savouring the smell of spices and the flavours of the eatery. Once, recollects Mr Mustafah, “he came in while I was at the sales tax office and I apologised that I would be able to meet him only two hours later. No problem, he said, just get me lots of paper.”

That day he drew the hustle and bustle of the street-life in Mattancherry, sketched the cows and goats, the children going to school and carts laden with spices being pulled by labourers. As a parting gift, he sketched a camel and gave that to the small restaurant as well. The sketches of the goat and the camel still enjoy the pride of place at Kayees.

He came home several times and enjoyed home cooked meals with my family, recounts Mr Mustafah. Husain left saying that he had to attend a wedding in Chennai and promised to be back immediately after that. But he suffered another heart attack in Chennai and never returned.

Published on June 09, 2011
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