by RAGHU RAI
Divine teaching survives and transcends time and the self. In one of the ancient Upanishads there is a conversation between Swetaketu, the knowledge-thirsty son of Sage Uddalaka and his father:
The Sage: Very well my son. Go and pick a fig from the Banyan tree, split it open and tell me what you see inside?
Son: Many tiny seeds, sir.
The Sage: Take one of them and split it open and tell me what you see inside?
Son: Nothing at all, sir.
The Sage replies: The subtlest essence of the fig appears to you as nothing, but believe me my son, from that very nothing this mighty banyan tree has arisen. That being which is the subtlest essence of everything, the supreme reality, the self, the self of all that exists.
If not exactly, it almost relates to my early years, and now it seems centuries ago that my elders sowed seeds inside me – some of which germinated into music, others into poetry, and countless into nature itself. Together, as they still sprout and grow quietly, at times in silence, they form my essence, as a large tree.
My yearning is so obvious, so intense, that my wife Meeta often remarks as she watches me being a maali at our farmland we acquired some two decades ago. While travelling on various assignments as a photographer, I picked up saplings of shrubs and trees and brought them home. To my delight, I discovered, over the years, my farm has earth from all over the country ( hamare farm pepureytheshkimittihai). I am blessed with this privilege only because of my love for plants, shrubs and trees. On this six acres of canvas that I have been painting with a variety of rare species, I planted a Maple tree (Chinar), which only grows in cold climates like Kashmir; it has now grown into a handsome young tree.
Come spring, even the ancient banyan tree, unlike humans, transforms into a huge ball of tenderness. With newly sprouted petal-like leaves, it looks like a resplendent bride wearing fresh greens with sprouting buds above in shy pinks and blushing reds.
Such is the magic of His grace and glory.
Raghu Rai was born in 1942 in the small village of Jhhang, now part of Pakistan. He took up photography in 1965, and the following year joined "The Statesman" newspaper as its chief photographer. Impressed by an exhibit of his work in Paris in 1971, Henri Cartier-Bresson nominated Rai to join Magnum Photos in 1977.
In the last 18 years, Rai has specialized in extensive coverage of India. He has produced more than 18 books, includingRaghu Rai's Delhi, The Sikhs, Calcutta, Khajuraho, Taj Mahal, Tibet in Exile, India, and Mother Teresa.
Rai was awarded the 'Padmashree' in 1971, one of India's highest civilian awards ever given to a photographer. In 1992, his National Geographic cover story "Human Management of Wildlife in India" won him widespread critical acclaim for the piece. Besides winning many national and international awards, Rai has exhibited his works in London, Paris, New York, Hamburg, Prague, Tokyo, Zurich and Sydney. His photo essays have appeared in many of the world's leading magazines and newspapers including "Time", "Life", "GEO", "The New York Times", "Sunday Times", "Newsweek", "The Independent," and the "New Yorker".
He has served three times on the jury of the World Press Photo and twice on the jury of UNESCO's International Photo Contest.
Raghu Rai lives in Delhi with his family and continues to be an associate of Magnum Photos.