Driving on a bright Sunday morning the day after Holi to the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), sated by the food and colours, I couldn’t help but feel slightly blessed that I lived in Delhi. I knew that an enormous treat lay in store.
The NGMA is hosting a retrospective of Raghu Rai’s photographs shot over a span of four decades. During this period, Rai’s images have captured India in all its variety and moods, in the process delighting us and also educating us about who we are.
Handsomely framed and blown up to poster size—some of the panoramas measure as much as 6 ft by 2 ft—many black and white photos have a grainy feel to them which adds a sense of remoteness from the here and now, and lends a romantic edge to them.
If one were to look for a unifying motif in these pictures that traverse large swathes of time and space, chronicling India in her magnificent diversity, it would have to be their humanity, which comes through with unalloyed force in image after image. Whether it is a solitary crow surrounded by a school of sparrows or a dog fleetingly in midair as he hops down a set of steps to the ground or a lady offering evening prayers at her home in Old Delhi or indeed the opaque emptiness of dead child’s eyes as he is being buried, it is Rai’s empathy with his subject and, by extension, the world which we inhabit, that makes him an artist of rare stature.
At the National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaipur House, New Delhi; till 15 April. The retrospective coincides with the launch of two photo books titled Raghu Rai’s India: Reflections in Colour and Raghu Rai’s India: Reflections in Black and White.