An epic in Black and White

Saint Teresa of Calcutta: A Celebration of Her Life & LegacySaint Teresa of Calcutta: A Celebration of Her Life & Legacy by Raghu Rai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My work schedule as a teacher in a Government School demands that I have to ply through the busiest railway station of the planet- twice daily, once in morning and once in evening-once at the beginning and the other, at the end of a day’s work. When I do come home –at the evening, exhausted –after a day long crusade with the children, colleagues, my Head Mistress…well, the list is endless – I see that fine arts students throng the corridor of the station –with art papers and pens in their hands – making sketches on the white canvas. They do different kinds of study-figure study from different angles, action study .pose study and so on! For the last eleven years I am so used to the obvious scenario that these days I hardly took a glance at the daily frame of the station. But on that day- back after with a tussle with my fellow teachers over the mid day meal issue I found something -that in my unconsciousness made my pace completely sloth. A young lady-probably in her mid twenties- in a wheelchair – was weeping. An elderly looking man- may be her father, may be someone else was trying to console her. Another elderly looking lady was looking at the duo with a vacant look- her face telling me something that is hard to describe- as if her world soon going to fall apart.
It is a moving scene – beyond doubt. And have materials to be a perfect story. I started thinking- how lucky are a clan of people called the painters. They will watch the movement-the emotions- the people- and then can make the fabric of the story with their own imagination and as Charlie Chaplin puts it-‘perhaps with a drop of tears.’ They are lucky enough. I started thinking- the same issue that I have previously thought at least a hundred times over-the group of people called the photographers are not so lucky. They are merely engineers compared to these imaginers! They have a real canvas to work upon. How can reality beat imagination? After all one photographer at his best can lens everyday story-the world around us- where the falling of winter leaf is only falling of winter leaf- not any indication of death. It is the world where the movement of the wrinkles of an old person is only wrinkle movement- not any indication of joy of a free man who had spent his life in chains.
My sudden thought was proved wrong every time I had the gushing thought and this time it was no exception- amid a bit of spicy touch. When I returned home- I found that the copy of ‘Saint Teresa of Calcutta- A celebration of Her Life & Legacy’ by Raghu Rai has been delivered to my house. I just looked at the cover of the book and for the hundred and first time I mentally slapped myself. The upper cover portrays an old lady- with wrinkles all around her face and at her hands-dressed in the classic outfit of a nun- everything in behind her is blurred- only she is prominent in the foreground-and her face-her posture reminds me of a hymn of Upanishad-‘From ignorance, lead me to truth;/ From darkness, lead me to light;/ From death, lead me to immortality/. Let there be all prevailing peace.’ ‘Saint Teresa of Calcutta- A celebration of her Life and her Legacy’ is the fruit of the association of Raghu Rai with Mother spanning over three decades and for over two decades after her demise. He first met her in the 70’s,in connection with a feature story for Junior Statesman- and had taken some of the most iconic pictures of mother since then. This is the fourth book on Mother by the eminent photographer. The collection of photography is divided in three board categories- the Canonization ceremony of the mother, her life and work and her legacy along with a well knit study of chronological events in her life. The book has been enriched with recollection of the memories of the holy figure – written in a spontaneous manner. The collection has been conceptualized in an innovative way-first the pictures of Canonization Ceremony have been arranged sequentially with a little introduction by the master photographer. It is temping for me to quote a little from the memoir-‘When Pope Francis arrived there was pandemonium all around. Everyone was screaming –‘Papa Francis we love you’ and in the confusion I was able to begin shooting with my larger cameras. The pictures that appear in the section are from the shoot. They show the incredible reverence with which Saint Teresa is regarded. ‘Although my friends often tell me that the snaps I do take are almost invariably out of focus- still in my limited ability I can tell pictures of page 17, 23, 25 are outstanding (all the pictures are excellent ,but to me these pictures reached the zenith of perfection) . And who can forget the classic of page 14- the iconic figure of the city of joy.
When Raghu Rai conceptualized this book on mother –he confessed he was hesitant due to two reasons- first he was a male and second he was not a Christian. In his eloquent way he continues in this book-‘I was extremely sensitive and careful in the way I photographed her and the sisters and she eventually said ‘ Let me do my prayer and I shall let you know.’ I said ‘Mother I have done my prayer and the answer is YES.’ At this she looked at me and said simply.’ Okay, let’s do it.’
The second section of the book –Her Life and Work seems to me the most interesting collection of photographs-with most of the photographs telling more than a thousand words while remaining in mere black and white silence. It began with a bit of flashback –reminding us how she had to begin her journey in an alien city-in an alien condition. Almost all the photographs have a touching story to tell. The collection begun with some snaps of the city of joy and continues with the work of the mother and Missionaries of Charity to wipe out tears from the eyes of the nameless inhabitants of the city where ‘life is fragile but the human will is indomitable.’ There are unpublished as well as famed photographs. Some of the photographs of Mother capturing her in different moods done by the famed photographer are really astonishing- catching emotional vivacity of the mother and her mental aura at large.
But the photographs of the prayers of the nuns require a special mention as there is a nice little story behind. Mother herself was against the idea of capturing prayer moments in lenses and rightly so. The photographer insisted and the logic he placed before Mother may prove intriguing to readers-‘Mother, you often say that you nurse the poorest of the poor because you not there when Jesus was suffering and thus while nursing the poor, you actually nurse Jesus. This is one of the two routes through which one can establish direct contact with him. The other one is prayer. I have never met him. Never seen him. But when see him only when you do your prayers. Jesus comes to dwell in your eyes. If I can’t photograph this, then how can I establish this connection and share it with others. My story will remain incomplete.’ The third section –The Legacy of Mother is collection of the photographs covering her last rite, and the Continuation of the sisters of her organization on the path shown by her. Coupled with a detailed chronological study of the events of her life this pictorial biography gets completed. The binding, printing quality and paper quality are truly of international standard making the book a must for a collectors –not to mention about persons who are passionate about photography.
Before I conclude I was a little confused about the title of the review. My brain was telling name it as –An epic in Black and White’-what else we can call her life-rather than epic?
But deep inside me somebody was telling –name it as –Light in darkness.
The brain ultimately wins-but it is a different story.

View all my reviews
Other details
Hardcover: 148 pages
Publisher: Aleph Book Company (1 April 2017)
Price- INR 1499
Buy it at
Amazon
More about the author at
Raghu Rai

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