Photographer Raghu Rai was handed his first camera by his elder brother, S Paul. “After completing engineering and working for two years, I had taken a break and come to Paul’s place in Delhi. His photographer friends used to visit him and I watched them discuss cameras and lenses. They would bring their photographs and ask his opinion. It felt as if there was nothing else to life other than photography,” recalls Rai. It was Paul who sent Rai’s first picture, of a foal, to a competition run by The Times in London. It was published and a new star was born in Indian photography.
Rai says Paul was one of the few handsome men he had seen in his life. “He used to be very stylish and had a great sense of aesthetics. He loved classical music and poetry. I grew up getting a feel of all that and it filled my life with such richness,” he says. People often confused between the two brothers as they looked similar, and their names did not solve the mystery either. “We did not use our surnames, and he changed his name from Sharampal to S Paul, as the latter was more stylish,” he says.
“There was a sense of humour in his pictures, which was rare in photography of that time and he captured some very important political events, such as the Indo-Pak war in 1965, and personalities such as Pt Nehru,” he says. Rai recalls that Paul had once captured Nehru holding a young and beautiful folk dancer during the Republic Day celebrations and was looking into her eyes. In the ’60s and ’70s, Paul was the first to break the tradition of pictorial romantic photography, prominent in India at that time, and take to contemporary photography, he says.
Rai regularly visited his brother as the latter battled cancer. “I was horrified to see him in the hospital. I held his hand and sat with him for three hours. After he came back home, he refused to take medicines and the cancer relapsed, after which his health went down the hill,” he says.