One can only imagine the number of frames Pranlal Patel has made over the past century. Neha Mutreja speaks to the legend who turned 104.
When I look at our generation, I find them giving up too soon, regardless of whether they are shooting or even walking a few kilometres. But I am left amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of 104-year-old Pranlal Patel.
A legendary photographer from Gujarat, this man, who has lived for a century, is still as curious as a small child. His twinkling eyes and innocent smile make me realise that it is his love for life that keeps him going. He has photographed the independence struggle and the everchanging landscape of Saurashtra. Each frame shows Pranlal’s love for his land and his people.
In Search of a Hobby
People usually spend their free time relaxing or speaking to their friends. Pranlal Patel, a primary school teacher, decided to look for a hobby that would keep him occupied. During this period, he tried his luck at learning music and painting. “But, my music teacher told me that I did not have a great voice to begin with. Besides, it took a lot of time to complete one painting.” This was when he met Balwant Bhatt, the son of his landlord in Maninagar, Gujarat.
A lawyer by profession, Bhatt was an avid hobbyist photographer and inspired Pranlal to embrace the medium as well. Pranlal was absolutely hooked and spent all his free time making images. He would never spend a single Sunday at home. Instead, he would be out exploring his surroundings.
A Longing for Kashmir
Soon, Pranlal started sending his images to publications all over the country. He recalls, “I maintained an account of whatever money I made from these images. Once I had saved up a little, I purchased a new camera, and my joy had no boundary.” Inspired by the images of A L Syed, one of India’s photographic legends, Pranlal even journeyed to Kashmir. “That trip changed my life. I would shoot through the day and develop photos in the evening.” Indeed, Pranlal’s images of Kashmir are mesmerising. One can see the peace that he must have felt as well as the eternal beauty of a place also known as paradise on earth.
Passion Over Profession
Each time we choose a new path, it helps to have reassurance from someone that we have made the right choice. However, it was a harsh remark made by a municipal officer that made Pranlal consider photography professionally. “I was taking a class in a municipal school, and as usual, there was a camera dangling from my chair. An officer arrived for the annual inspection and noticing the camera, asked me, ‘What is this?’ I replied that it was a camera. To which, he said, ‘If you are so fond of photography, then open a studio. Such things are no good for a teacher.’ His remark stunned me and I spent a sleepless night. The next morning, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and handed over my resignation.”
“After so many years of rigourous practice, I have learned that all one needs to do is observe the conditions and react accordingly.”
On the Path to Fame
Pranlal rented a place at Gandhi road, Ahmedabad to set up a studio. In no time, his business gained momentum and he was approached by the who’s who of Gujarat. Pranlal began to make pictures of architecture, daily life and even the weddings of royals. He remembers an incident where a royal family wanted pictures shot of a wedding baraat at night. Pranlal took up the challenge and hired trucks to set up lights. He did a fabulous job and is remembered fondly by the family.
As I listen to his enthralling stories, I wonder what keeps him going at this age. He is very active and insists on attending all photographic events in Ahmedabad. I look at him and the eternal love for the medium reflects in his eyes. Times change, landscapes change and so do people. But Pranlal’s passion for the medium is timeless. After all, passion knows no language and boundaries. If you respect the passion within you and follow your heart, there is nothing in this world that can stop you.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Better Photography.