'I don't see Uddhav as politician. He is an artist'

Updated: Dec 15, 2019, 08:47 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

The man who trained Maharashtra's new CM to work behind the lens, remembers his most famous student

Professor Vasudeo S Nibre, former HOD of photography at Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, at his Dombivli residence. Pic/Atul Kamble
Professor Vasudeo S Nibre, former HOD of photography at Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, at his Dombivli residence. Pic/Atul Kamble

A true artist carries his art with him. Everything else, follows. Professor Vasudeo S Nibre, 82, former head of department of photography at Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, tells us, when we ask him about his most famous student, Uddhav Thackeray. "To me, he is always going to be an artist. I don't see him as a politician," he says.

The professor has been keeping a close eye on Thackeray's career—from being a photographer to sainik to party president and now the chief minister of the state—albeit, from a distance. On a table in the drawing room of his Dombivli home, is the coffee-table book, Maharashtra Desha. It has a collection of scenic, aerial landscape pictures shot by Thackeray. "See these photographs," he says. "You will know how talented he is."

After Thackeray graduated in 1980, he never really kept in touch with the professor. If they met, it was only at social gatherings, where he, Nibre remembers, was always respectful. Nibre was a teacher in the photography department, when Thackeray joined the institute in 1975. In the fourth year, when students are expected to choose a specialisation or elective course, Thackeray, who was also a gifted illustrator and sketch artist, chose photography. "His cousin Raj went the other way," says Nibre, of his other popular student. "He told me, 'Sir, I think I am a better cartoonist'. And he was really brilliant at it. Raj was also interested in other activities." He doesn't share what, though.

Uddhav Thackeray felicitating Nibre at a photography competition
Uddhav Thackeray felicitating Nibre at a photography competition

Nibre, however, recalls Thackeray being "very calm, quiet and sincere". "We all knew he was Bal Thackeray's son, but he never threw his weight around. When he was in class, he was just another diligent student, eager to learn," he says. The professor, along with another teacher, was in-charge of teaching the practical side of photography. This included, showing students how to load film in the camera, working on various lighting techniques, shooting pictures and processing them. "Back in the day, you had to take the prints yourself. So, we would work in the dark room, where you prepared the developer using the chemicals. All this required working for three to four hours straight inside the room, sometimes, the entire day. Uddhav was always there. He'd never skip these sessions," he says. "When I met him several years later, that's the first thing he remembered. 'Sir, I will never forget the dark room process'." Nibre would spend 15 of his 27 years at JJ inside the dark room. "Bending and working led to spondylitis. Now, I can't do it anymore," says Nibre, who retired from the institute in 1996.

His memories of Thackeray, the student, are slightly hazy. He admits that's also because Thackeray never made an attempt to be in the spotlight. He instead recounts fellow professor and artist MG Rajadhyaksha's words of praise, in a recent blog post. In his piece, Rajadhyaksha shared how Thackeray rarely spoke in class, but when he did, he was such an effortless orator, that he would leave the rest dumbstruck. "He always took the Harbour line from Bandra to CST [then, VT], and was the first one to make it to class, even when it was pouring," Rajadhyaksha shared.

The Sena leader also never forgot his gurus, says Nibre. Around 12 years ago, when one of Thackeray's classmates and friend started a photography institute in Thane, Nibre was asked to design the syllabus and teach at the school. Thackeray was invited for the ribbon cutting ceremony. "When he saw me in the crowd, he said, 'Sir, tumhi aahat ikde, tar mi kashala opening karu'. He took a step back, and got me to do the opening." Raj too, made an exception for Nibre, when the professor invited him to speak at his newly-launched institute, BS Bandekar College of Fine Art, in Sawantwadi in the late 1990s. "His team said that Raj would only visit the college and not talk. But when he came, he not only spoke with my students for over an hour, he also gave them a demo, with a caricature of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee."

And what does the professor, who is now enjoying a quiet retirement life away from the dark room, think of Thackeray's new political journey. "He was sincere then, I am hoping he is sincere now. But we will have to wait and see. I must say, though, that I was surprised with his decision to become the CM. He is somebody I have never seen lose his cool. We will have to see how he prepares himself for the future."

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