Re­quiem For a Recluse

A quiet man with the sharpest eye. A pho­tog­ra­pher who brought mys­tery, nu­ance and raw earth­i­ness to fash­ion. SU­NIL MEHRA re­mem­bers

Tehelka - - FASHION -

PIC­TURE PER­FECT” was the one term that kept haunt­ing friends and fam­ily at­tend­ing Prabud­dha’s sea­side funeral at Alibag, the quiet is­land off the shores of fre­netic, fran­tic Mum­bai. The sound of the waves, co­conut trees sway­ing in the quiet breeze, birds de­scrib­ing grace­ful arcs in the blue sky above, Prabud­dha’s hand­some pa­tri­cian face, leo­nine mane fram­ing it, as serene in death as it was in life, the flames dra­mat­i­cally leap­ing heav­en­wards car­ry­ing his soul into the ether. It did make for a great frame. In a cor­ner, his beau­ti­ful wife Tanya, su­per­model part­ner Laxmi, united and silently bond­ing in grief... Prabud­dha, mas­ter framer/ace lens­man, would have ap­proved.

A quiet but dra­matic de­par­ture. Laxmi and Prabud­dha in a cab to the air­port to re­turn to their Goa home. Sud­denly, he com­plains of nausea, says, “I’m un­well, let’s not go.” She turns the car around, drives back fran­ti­cally to host Bi­jay Jain’s house. By the time they reach, Prabud­dha’s left. Qui­etly. For­ever.

Quiet is how friends in­vari­ably de­scribed this reclu­sive, shy man with the surest, sharpest eye for the split sec­ond, dra­matic mo­ment. His mo­ments spoke of nu­ance, un­der­tows, re­vealed quin­tes­sen­tial per­sonas, the raw un­al­loyed earthy sen­su­ous­ness of his sub­jects. His im­ages evoked in­ter­nal land­scapes, per­sonal his­to­ries; al­most like visual novel­las.

I re­mem­ber walk­ing into a roof­less aban­doned beedi ware­house in Bom­bay with pho­tog­ra­pher friend David de Souza. There, un­der the stars, on crum­bling walls were sus­pended huge black and white por­traits of Goans from his Edge of Faith se­ries. Bib­li­cal faces; whole life sto­ries etched on them. Prabud­dha es­chewed gallery space. Frames. Colours. You turned cor­ners to find rav­aged faces look­ing back from rav­aged walls, peer­ing amid the odd peepul sapling, ob­sti­nate bush, in­sis­tently alive, that had thrust it­self ob­sti­nately through a crevice... As you gazed, trans­fixed, the moon, the first stars came up, eerily lighting each face. It was real. It was raw. It was Prabud­dha.

The Ladakh book’s b&w stark­ness, the Nudes’ play of nat­u­ral light and shadow evoked sim­i­lar, in­fi­nite mys­ter­ies. That same earthy qual­ity in­formed his cult im­age of Milind and Madhu in the buff; them coiled around each other, python coiled around them, sports shoes they were ad­ver­tis­ing the only bod­ily adorn­ment.

The ac­knowl­edged émi­nence grise of the Fash­ion Uni­verse was stud­iedly ‘un­fash­ion’. So were those he lived with, loved. Wife Tanya, muse Laxmi. Sim­ple, un­clut­tered peo­ple, un­af­fected by the glamour and the glitz that was the sur­round-sound fea­ture of their lives. Chore­og­ra­pher Vidyun Singh, an early buddy, re­mem­bers a quiet, un­der­stated man with his heart in the right place. “I loved a ran­dom pic­ture of leaves, which I thought would be great for my hill shack. I re­mem­ber com­pli­ment­ing him for the im­age.” Many moons later, he re­mem­bered. Sent it on to her. The man hated gush. Vidyun re­calls an in-flight gush fest with peo­ple pass­ing stun­ning im­ages of a Ro­hit Khosla fash­ion shoot he’d done, punc­tu­at­ing it with oohs, aaahs, awe­somes. “I re­mem­ber say­ing ‘not bad’.” Prabud­dha guf­fawed, dined out on that anec­dote for years. He loved her un­der­stat­ed­ness. It was who he was. They bonded. For life.

A life well lived. But less. 56 is no time to go. But then, for Prabud­dha, less was al­ways more.

Mehra is a jour­nal­ist and an art col­lec­tor

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