On Thursday, the 8th of September, I had a lecture scheduled at Rachana College of Applied Art, where I teach. The topic was 'The need for an art director to be sensitive towards poetry'. The earlier evening at around 5, as teaching material, I was downloading poems by Nissim Ezekiel, Arun Kolatkar and WH Auden. The first printout I held in my hand was one of my all-time favourites: Funeral Blues by WH Auden - a poem written as an obituary to his dear departed friend. After I finished reading it aloud, almost as a rehearsal for my reading in class, I got a call from my photographer friend Shashi Nair. His voice was sheepish as he asked me: 'Did you hear it?' I asked, 'What?' He said, almost admonishing himself for saying it, 'Nalesh is no more.' I couldn't believe it. 62 is hardly the age to expect the unexpected. Auden's poem shivered in my hands as I read it without reading it:
'He was my North, my South, my East and my West
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.'
It began as a casual pairing by the master intuitionist Ravi Gupta in Trikaya in 1983. Though I did work with art directors like Vikas Gaitonde, Sanjay Khare and Yashwant Jamsandekar, and Nalesh, with copywriters like Christopher and Kersi Katrak, we were most comfortable working with each other. And our pairing had the tacit approval of Nalesh's guru Shantaram Pawar. He had realised my potential as a writer when he read the copy of my IPCL campaign which never saw the light of day. Probably the only purpose of that campaign was to get the two of us together.
The reason we stuck together for so long could probably be explained thus. The famed creative ego was absent among us. It didn't matter who thought of the idea first, we openly acknowledged where it came from. The creative product was our child. It didn't matter if it looked more like the father, or the mother. So much so that we were the only creative duo who were called by a joint name: Ganga-Nalesh. Everything we did - good, bad or indifferent - we shared the responsibility.
The second reason of our longevity was that both of us believed in thinking visually, the genesis of which we both owed to the master-mentor of them all: Shantaram Pawar. We had realised almost thirty years ago that to communicate in a country like ours with close to 20 languages, scores of cultures and traditions, and of course diverse religions, one had to think visually to cut across barriers. Today, the whole world does so. Because a campaign conceived in Japan has to work in France. And one conceived in China has to work in Africa.
The third reason could be because Nalesh, the visualiser, was a poet at heart. And Ganga, the copywriter, was a wildlife photographer at heart. So we understood each other's area of expertise, but the final say on the matter we would leave to the expert. So even if I had a disagreement on the visual or the design of a campaign, the final call will be Nalesh's. And vice versa in matters of copywriting; the last word would be mine.
Probably that is the sole reason that after separating from each other in chlorophyll in 2002, Nalesh went on to become one of the finest Marathi poets, best known as a 'nisargkavi', or nature poet, who walked his unbeaten path in Marathi poetry. And I, for one, got into travel photography and nature writing with two published books, Evergreen Leaves and Tales of a Driftwood.
The only difference in our personalities would be this: I loved to teach and he hated teaching. He was a loner. He hated people peering over his shoulder when he created. My creation was open; right in front of my juniors. He remained a loner; I became a teacher. To each his own.
But he was a tremendous inspiration for many art directors. He protected and encouraged their madness. And he dispelled their fear of darkness.
'As I lit the matchstick,
The dense darkness
Ran and hid behind me
Scared, like my own shadow.'
- Nalesh Patil