Rajesh Bedi takes cognizance of a different Rajasthan in the images that dot his upcoming book

A riot of colours, exotic and exquisite with all its havelis and palaces. The desert State Rajasthan has been packaged and sold like this to a regular tourist for years, who marvels at its beauty while enjoying an über luxurious stay. Amidst all this comes Rajesh Bedi’s “Rajasthan – Under the Desert Sky”, a book presenting Rajasthan minus all the frills. Published by Roli Books with text by Gillian Wright, its 100 images presents a fresh perspective on the State and the photographer Bedi, who is otherwise known for his work in the area of wildlife, had set out to achieve exactly that, when he first toyed with the idea of documenting Rajasthan two decades ago.

Taking away the dominant aspects of grandeur and royalty which has shaped our understanding of Rajasthan so far, Bedi has captured the region as it is. He travels to remote corners of Rajasthan to make images like first rays of the Sun falling over a flock of sheep, topographical views, aerial landscapes, deserted forts, primitive rock shelters, ancient step wells, wildlife and communities. Using hot air balloons, microlite and cameras mounted on high-flying kites, Bedi creates compositions that show the vastnesses of the region in all its austerity. But in his aim of a realistic portrayal, the lensman doesn’t end up painting a sorry picture of the region. The shepherd guiding his flock of sheep swathed in the first rays of the morning Sun isn’t devoid of dignity. Another significant element of the same composition is a solar panel somewhere around charging a mobile phone.

“My quest for hunting unexplored areas took me to the interiors which haven’t got influenced by the outside world. My driver took me to an area in Barmer where cemented houses haven’t come up as yet. The idea is to enrich people’s understanding of the region and to look beyond palaces and maharajas,” says Bedi, who worked on this project for four and a half years. But there are pictures as old as 40 years. An old picture of the Pushkar fair, that has been included in the book, is very different from Pushkar of today. “It is a very dramatic image but it doesn’t look like Pushkar fair because there are no foreigners in it. From being an animal fair it has transformed into an absolute touristic activity,” he says.

If with one image, he is highlighting the hyper-tourism prevalent in the State, elsewhere, he is drawing the attention of his reader to the Rajasthani vision and craftsmanship. The image of a step well or a baoli shot from a height, takes a look at Rajasthani architecture beyond palaces and a heritage which is very much alive.

Explaining the reason behind so many aerial shots, Bedi says there couldn’t have been a better way to capture the vastness of the State. “Only when you go up, you can judge its scale and vastness better,” he adds. “For miles and miles there is no human soul and suddenly you see a head emerging and then you see a flock of sheep either going for grazing or heading back to his village. But it’s amazing that on the one hand it is barren and then on the other, you find the most exotic wildlife here.” So how could he remain away from it? So for a wildlife lover, he has included images of the Great Indian Bustard, ghariyal and the Ranthambore and Sariska National Parks.

One of the most powerful images, which form the back cover of the coffee table book is of Kiran Bishnoi of Jodhpur district offering suckle to the young chinkara gazelle and her oson in chorus. “It sets a unique example in the world of harmony between man and nature. I shot this image with the due permission of the lady and her husband and while I was looking into the lens, I realised it was all blurred. I had tears in my eyes when I saw it but I controlled my emotions and I told myself Bedi you can’t miss this shot because you only come across such moments once in a lifetime.”

(The book will be launched on August 8 at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, and is accompanied by an exhibition of 47 blowups on canvas that will be on display from August 9 till 13 at IHC. Lodi Road. Kiran Bishnoi will be present at the launch and will share her experiences in raising the chinkara fawn and also about the values of conservation practiced by the Bishnoi community.)

His photographs have been published in leading international magazines, such as the National Geographic, Life, Geo and Audubon Society Book, in various encyclopaedias and have also been adopted on Indian postage stamps. Bedi has published work on Banaras, Ladakh, Sikkim, and “Sadhus – The Holy Men”.

Well-known for his work in the area of wildlife in India, his large-format pictorial book titled “India’s Wild Wonders” was one of the first wildlife books on India’s rich fauna. He was adjudged Wildlife Photographer of the Year 1986 in a competition organised by the Natural History Museum, BBC Wildlife Magazine and others. He has been involved as Director – Cameraman on several award-winning films produced by Bedi Films which have won critical acclaim nationally and internationally – Panda or Green Oscar, Nomination to British Academy Awards, and EMMY.