“Morning, Bodhe.” “Good morning, tell me.” “What’s the program?” “Going to the ministry of a meeting at 11. Will reach your place by 1:30” “OK” This conversation with Bodhe sir was my day-starter for many years, everyday. He was highly disciplined and punctual owing to his 35 years long tenure in Indian Navy. I had to be punctual and learn the value of time! In 1980, I was at Bombay Natural History Society with Ulhas Rane. We used to organize nature orientation camps, bird watching camps and nature treks. We had inadequate no. of volunteers and trainers. So we planned to conduct a Volunteer Training Camp at Rane sir’s farm house near Karnala. We designed a course for the camp which included Nature Photography. The famous photographer Gopal Bodhe was invited to deliver his lecture on the subject. He readily accepted our invitation.
After a few years of this camp, I learnt about his exhibition of Aerial Photography and visited him on a priority basis. We often observe the Sahyadri Mountains and our historic forts; but his aerial photographs offered entirely different perspectives of the same. His aerial images of Sahyadri were simply awesome!
After watching the exhibition I met him in person. He simply asked,
How about your new ventures in wildlife photography?
Well, Currently I am working on pictorial documentation of environment.
That’s good! You are the first photographer to use this term. Pictorial Documentation! Well, I am doing the same, just from the skies.
He told me about his wish to shoot Valley of Flowers. “Sir, we stand on the ground with our camera”, I said jokingly. He replied, “I am retiring from my service this August. I should make sure that my feet touch the ground!”
Then we began with our preparations. We were so engulfed with the idea that we almost forgot our daily routine, even the food! I had in inventory of Valley-photos from my previous visits. With his photographs added to it, my inventory developed further. After our visit to the valley, he insisted on conducting an exhibition. When I was positive about it, he began the preparations with such an enthusiasm like there is a wedding! He never left me during the process; right from selection of the pictures to the printing. That was my first exhibition and all the credit goes to him! Our relation became stronger after this exhibition. We often discussed about new projects, places to visit to and other things. After his retirement, Bodhe sir, often visited my office. I suggested digitization of his pictures and he gladly accepted the offer. Ajay Turkar made the equipments available to us and Vibhav Manjarekar took the responsibility to convert more than 500,000 images.
Bodhe sir’s tenure in navy as a photographer is, I daresay, historic! He used study climate, atmosphere, flight routs, lights and other factors before taking off. He was particular about the standards and never let a single shot to go waste. He was always cautious as a photographer. On the 4th day after Tsunami, he was flying over the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. After they had clicked the necessary pictures the pilot turned the helicopter, just when Bodhe sir spotted a volcano that has come to life. He instructed the pilot to take them closer and shot the smoke-breathing volcano. Once, the ships in the Gate Way of India Port were mobilized owing to the President’s visit to INS Vikrant. After shooting the celebration on INS Vikrant, Bodhe sir clicked the empty harbors near the coasts. These pictures are the pictorial documentation of a memorable time. Bodhe sir has clicked places all over India. He insisted on choosing a subject or topic and pursued the same till the end. That was his style of working. He aerially shot Leh-Laddakh, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujrat, Lakshdweep, and Andaman-Nicobar islands under the title “A view from heaven”. He has studied and photographed the Silk Route; an old trade route between India and Tibet.
His book, “Lighthouses of India”, is the only documental source to get information about a few lessor known light houses. This documentation is particularly important because it has pin-point annotations of their geographical locations, which will prove to be helpful in observing future developments of coastal regions. His coastal photography depicts the variety of seashores and fishing boats with changes in the location. Later he pursued sacred places of India in his photographical ventures. His aerial pictures have helped in rebuilding of Bhadreshwar (in Gujrat) and Kalahasthi (in Andhra Pradesh); which were destroyed in an earthquake. Bodhe sir published his first book album “Goa- A view from heaven” and started with his own publishing house, SiddhiShakti. Eventually, he published 11 books including “Ancient trade routes of Maharashtra” and the latest book with pictures of Siddhi Vinayak temple, Mumbai.
While shooting for this book in Siddhi Vinayak temple for over a year he began suffering from some eye problems. We needed to shoot the golden jewelry of Lord Siddhi Vinayak. I volunteered for the task and he easily accepted the same. He was a rare person with a big heart at his status and position. I would say his heart beat for photography. He used to visit many exhibitions in Mumbai, May it displayed the pictures of an ace or an amateur photographer. He always met the photographers in person and motivated – guided them. He insisted upon owning the required equipment so to continue pursuing aerial photography after his retirement he bought a Dragon Fly Helicopter. He won’t stop unless he has learnt and implemented any new or upcoming technology in his photography. To sate this thirst of knowledge he visited Canada 3 times over to learn about remote helicopters and thermal cameras. He was planning to document the underground water tables and reservoirs. He was a social person and often met with the knowledgeable people in all the fields. He would discuss the subjects of their interest and didn’t boast about his deep knowledge of photography.
In the year 2012, we were planning to commence the silver jubilee of Pakshimitra Sammelan in Mumbai. We were facing problems with the accommodation facilities for the bird-lovers who were willing to attend to this summit. When I approached Bodhe sir with this problem, he fixed a meeting with then honorable minister Dr.Patangrao Kadam. Kadam sir helped us and we got the accommodation facilities in National Park base. Credit goes to Bodhe sir and his love for nature! “You say that I am your favorite student but never take me with you for aerial shoots”, I always said to him. And then, I learnt my first lessons in aerial photography when we flew over the Lakshdweep islands! Then I followed and assisted him to various places. One fine day he said, “You have learnt everything now, you don’t need me anymore!”
Bodhe sir was a working member of the Heritage Committee and Wild Life Advisory Board. He worked hard to meet his responsibilities and so was respected by ministry. He could directly call the Chief Minister to discuss matters of importance. Meanwhile, he planned his second inning in wildlife photography. I was happily surprised to listen to his plans. During the process of Siddhi Vinayak shooting, we had visited Kas and Tadoba. The book and meetings kept him busy for a while. Just after publication of the book he got himself occupied with my exhibition at Jehangir hall. To my pleasure, renowned wild life photographer Adhikji Shirodkar visited the exhibition and Bodhe sir learnt about his plans to visit Satatal - Jim Corbett National park. He immediately booked his ticket!
The 4th day after my exhibition brought news of Adhikji’s sad demise; I was about to cancel the tour but Bodhe sir insisted on visiting Satatal. He looked tired due to heavy work load and his diminishing health was taking its toll. We went to Satatal with Vivek Nagvekar, Dr. Dhananjay Joshi and Vishal. He did not look enthusiastic or cherished in the journey. On a bridge, he asked me to click his photograph. We had done many tours together but this was an unusual demand on his part. We continued our journey to Pangot. Pangot offers panorama of Himalayan Ranges. Panorama Photography was Bodhe sir’s subject of interest and he looked elated for the day, but this enthusiasm faded in the sessions to follow. Upon returning to Satatal, he decided to stay in his room and sent us for the shooting. He welcomed us when we returned and over a cup of tea disclosed good news. His coastal photography project was sanctioned and we had to begin the planning as soon as we returned to Mumbai. When we went to our rooms, Bodhe sir asked me to give him Lomotil tablet. He was suffering from loose motions and looked weak. By midnight his health deteriorated even more and he began vomiting. We immediately called for a vehicle and admitted him in a hospital in Nainital. His deteriorating conditions appeared to stabilize in the hospital. He warned us against informing his family of his health conditions. Vivek kept him company and I had to return to the hotel. Early in the morning, about 5:20, I got a call from Vivek and before I could reach the hospital Bodhe Sir waved good bye to the world! Third day after his demise I returned to my office. That Bibhas, who is always impatient to download and see the photos of any tour; was now refraining to do the same, I could download the pictures after almost a week.
After a few days, I attended the condolence meeting held by Gomantak Maratha Samaj in the memory of Adhikji Shirodkar. After addressing the crowd I said, “The Satatal tour was planned for Adhikji. I couldn’t take him there. Bodhe sir insisted upon continuing the tour, but I couldn’t bring him home…” Bodhe sir should have given Padma Puraskar for his precious contribution in the pictorial documentation using aerial photography. But regrettably, this didn’t happen. I know that two of my ideals are not there to guide me. World will never see any more pictures of these two great artists; photographers.