I first met MF at the Hay Hill gallery in Mayfair, London.
I’d been told he was old and didn’t like wearing shoes, so expected a Ghandi-like figure.
Instead, a tall spare man, impeccably dressed and self-contained, walked into the gallery office.
I would have guessed his age at 70. He was 94.
I was expecting a short business meeting (BBP had been approached to produce a book on his Ramayana series in progress). Instead, he talked at length about his life, his film making, the Sheikha Mozah’s patronage and his home in Doha and, with great animation, about wanting to produce a loose leaf book.
He drew me two sketches on ordinary print paper and, as an afterthought, I asked him to sign one, which he did obligingly.
He wanted us to use a bamboo box to house the loose pages that were to be rolled in a scroll and covered with plain saffron cloth held by Rudraksha beads.
He liked the BB books, too, and surprised us all when he asked to take and show them to his friends and collectors.
He was friendly and open, yet somewhat ethereal and detached.
I asked him if there was a secret to his longevity (he was not just physically together, his mind was sharp and totally attuned to commercial reality).
He mentioned eating small portions but said that the ‘secret’ is genetics – if you are born with the longevity gene and are careful, you live a long life.
I met him 3 more times in the months to follow – he had given me his mobile number (which is still in my contacts) and so, we kept vaguely in touch.
I knew he liked to rest in the afternoon and often spent the day painting in his Mayfair flat.
Once I took a friend, Howard Bilton, the owner of the Sovereign Art Foundation, to meet him. I had been invited to a polo match, so left them at MF’s flat, deep in conversation.
I had him for dinner once but he was already ailing a bit and not in his usual fine form.
I could tell he was tiring easily, plus everyone wanted a piece of him – he was, and still is, worshipped by his fans and collectors.
When I heard the news of his passing, I regretted, as one always does, not getting him to know him better.
I don’t know if he got to finish his Ramayana series. The paintings were supposed to be illuminated from behind and I know he was using special paints for added effect. It would have been quite an installation and perhaps it will still happen.
The only and major missing factor will be the great man himself.