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Photographer Raghu Rai: With Mother Teresa, one had to tread gently

Photographer Raghu Rai has taken astounding pictures of Saint Teresa over the last five decades, some of which form part of his new book on the life and times of the missionary.

books Updated: Apr 27, 2017 19:30 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Mother Teresa,Saint Teresa,Raghu Rai
Photographer Raghu Rai has come up with a new book comprising his pictures of Saint Teresa. (AMAL KS/HT PHOTO)

Photographer Raghu Rai has become an authority in the world of photography owing to his celebrated works. Yet, one person who made him nervous was late Mother Teresa. However, once the philanthropic icon approved of the lensman’s wish to capture her, he didn’t stop until next five decades.

Cover of the latest book by Raghu Rai.

“It was always so difficult to take pictures of her. You can convince a politician, a minister, and a celebrity or take pangas with anybody, but with Mother you had to tread very gently and carefully,” says the septuagenarian recollecting his encounters with the her, which he has compiled in his fourth book on Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“Once, I had just clicked 8-10 pictures, and she looked at me and said, ‘But haven’t you taken enough pictures? I said, other, not really. She asked: How many more will you take? I said, mother, how many times do you pray? This is my way of doing my prayer. Then she gave me a smile and said all right,” recollects Rai, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 1971.

She was like a spiritual teacher to me. That’s why I kept going back to her.

The book has neat sections comprising anecdotes and photographs. “These are exactly the kind of conversations we had. I am a very forgetful person but I remember these intense experiences with Mother Teresa — whom I have admired and loved. She was like a spiritual teacher to me. That’s why, I kept going back to her,” says Rai, who first met her in the ’70s.

“Vo Maa jo thi, she would hold your hand and not look at you but inside you. And when you are a naughty boy, how scared do you feel? That kind of feeling was a great experience for me and every time I had to meet her, I had to clean myself from inside and outside and she restored me to myself,” he adds.

A picture of Mother Teresa with a child and a photo of Mother Mary with Christ seen on the wall above. ( Raghu Rai )

Narrating some candid experiences, Rai says that he considered her a saint much before she was canonised and decided to capture her within the environs of her abode. “Resonance in any art form is a very important aspect. The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s institution) have photographs of Mother Mary and Christ everywhere. So, I tried to bring those references in the pictures, I clicked of Mother... She dedicated her life in the name of God. She was our Mother Mary. And to resonate that feeling, I took pictures where Christ and Mary can also be seen in the frames,” he explains.

Raghu Rai says that Mother kept listening to this man for a few minutes and then asked the driver to move the car. When Rai asked Mother why she didn’t talk to him, she said the man had taken money from her on pretext of illness, quite a few times, and bought alcohol with it. ( Raghu Rai )
I converted the noise of colours into silence and made it more grey and black and white.

But all of these are black and white shots. Reason? “They have lot of bright greens in old people’s homes. And, there was some red here and there. These colours don’t gel and convey the intensity. That’s why I converted the noise of colours into silence and made it more grey and black and white,” says Rai, who was recently honoured with Lifetime Achievement at the 6th National Photography Awards by the government.

A photograph of Mother Teresa receiving Bharat Ratna from former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi in 1980. The picture carries a quote of Mother: If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you now what you are. ( Raghu Rai )

Though he usually let his pictures do the talking, in this book he has incorporated Mother’s quotes besides his photographs. “Mother is not with us and her utterances were so amazing. Her words were simple and touching. That’s why it was important to share them especially with the new generation; now that we can’t hear her any more,” he says.

My experience with Mother, when she left, was incomplete. She wanted me to have a completion of that feeling.

Rai adds that he hadn’t planned to attend her canonisation in Vatican but couldn’t reject an invite from the sisters at Missionaries of Charity (Kolkata). “Literally, jaise kehte hain na ki, bulawa aaya… My experience with Mother, when she left, was incomplete. She wanted me to have a completion of that feeling,” he concludes.

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First Published: Apr 27, 2017 19:28 IST