On Thursday, 20 March 2014, Robi Ganguli—one of the most distinguished creative photographers of India and a senior member of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry—left his physical sheath at 3 a.m. in the Ashram Nursing Home. He was suffering from leukemia.
Born to Nolin Bihari Ganguli and Sarala Devi on 28 June 1931 Robi was the youngest of seven brothers (Manoranjan, Niharanjan, Chittaranjan, Sudhiranjan, Amiyoranjan and Kanak) and two sisters (Gauri and Chhobi). Nolin Bihari Ganguli, was the proprietor of ‘N.B. Ganguli Constructions’, a well-known construction firm in Kolkata, and had constructed many buildings of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, including the Calcutta Race Course. After the demise of Nolin Bihari in February 1941, Robi’s elder brother Chittaranjan—who had already visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1940—suggested that the family should visit the Ashram for a month or two. After obtaining the necessary permission, the Ganguli family arrived at Pondicherry on 20 April 1941 and stayed in the Ashram till the end of June. It was on 24 April 1941 that young Robi had his first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo.
During his stay in the Ashram, Robi worked in the Atelier—also known as the Workshop—from 7:30 to 11:30 in the morning and from 1 to 5 in the afternoon under Pavitra—the in-charge of Atelier. From 6 p.m. till about 7 p.m. he worked in the Dining Room. There were two small rooms which were known as ‘Late Comer’s Room’. Robi’s job in the Dining Room was to remove the stools and clean up the rooms with the help of a broom and a wet cloth. These were his daily work for the two months he stayed in Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
After the demise of Chittaranjan, the Ganguli family returned to the Ashram in August 1942 and joined it as permanent inmates. Robi’s mother Sarala worked in several departments like the Bakery, the Dining Room and the Mother’s Kitchen. His eldest brother Manoranjan—who settled in the Ashram in 1943-44—initially worked in the Cazanove garden; later he worked in the Construction Department and developed many projects of the Ashram including the Tennis Ground. He also developed the La Faucheur Garden and looked after it for several years. Amiyoranjan worked initially in the Granary and Laundry but later became the Manager of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press. Kanak worked in the Dining Hall Washing Department and later in the Ashram Press. Gauri—who was married to the great music composer Sunil Bhattacharya—worked in the Laundry in the early years and later looked after the Mother’s rooms in the Playground and the Sports Ground. She also taught in the Ashram School. Chhobi was initially given work in the Dining Room but afterwards she worked in the office of Pavitra and the Music Recording Section of Sunil Bhattacharya. Robi worked in various departments of the Ashram which included the Atelier, the Dining Room, the Laundry and the Photographic Department (then known as ‘Photo Service’). From 1961 to 1985 he looked after the production at the Ashram Press.
Under the guidance of the Mother, Robi had developed a profound love for photography which blossomed with the passage of time. He was one of the four photographers (the others being Chiman Patel, Venkatesh and Vidyavrata) who had the privilege to take photographs of Sri Aurobindo’s mahasamadhi and His journey to the Samadhi vault. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was well known as a creative photographer not only in India but in the broader world too. His works were included in several important photographic publications of that era like Photography Yearbook, Photograms of the Year and Federation of International Art Photography Annual. His articles on photography have been published in reputed international journals like American Photography, Photograma, Art and Photography and Viewfinder to name a few. He also organized the annual Pondicherry International Salon of Photography for over twenty-five years and had been a judge at many national and international Salons.
In his later years, Robi had experimented with digital photography which led him to discover ‘a new world of luminous creativity’. The website www.gallerynow.com writes about his digital photographs: “Robi Ganguli’s work, with its unpretentious knack for experimentation, embodies a delightful immersion into the residue of contemporary visual culture. He transforms nature into contemplative artworks that are masterfully manipulated into visually arresting artistic statements. Engaging in its execution, his work is creative in the best sense.”
Another website www.pondyart.org writes about him: “To define Mr. Ganguli’s work itself, is almost impossible. He has bridged decades of development in the tools available to the artist… He works with color and without, with light and shadow, with form and movement. He even plays with the images with different software. Some images are architectural, others natural and still others purely human. It is obvious the fascination the camera and its many possibilities hold for him still. When one sees what he has chosen to focus on with his lens, it is often something that most of us would not have considered worth a second glance, but in fact he has studied from all angles and found more than worthy. The results most certainly deserve our attention.”
Robi-da was a soft-spoken, helpful and a perfect gentleman. He had a wonderful sense of aesthetics. There was immaculate beauty in the works he created and developed.
I had met Robi-da for the last time on 20 February this year at his residence in Pondicherry. He had slight fever on that day which, he told me, was due to an infection he was suffering from in his urinary tract. The talks we had were mostly based on digital printing of books and the future of e-books. Both of us planned to work together on an e-album of the Mother’s photographs. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would be my last meeting with him. Exactly a month later on 20 March Robi-da left his body.
Robi-da’s was an active life full of achievements. Now it was time for him to take rest. So the Mother’s child has gone to take rest in the Mother’s lap.
We will all miss you very much, dear Robi-da!
With warm regards,