India’s most celebrated photojournalist, Raghu Rai, and Tibet’s iconic spiritual leader, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, share a common fate. Both were destined to lose their homelands. Partition forced Rai to escape from Pakistan’s Punjab province aged five, and His Holiness was almost twenty-four when he fled his summer palace in Lhasa to reach freedom and asylum in India.
Their paths began to cross when Rai was discovered in Paris in 1972 by the legend of 20th-century photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who immediately voted him into the world’s most exclusive photo agency, Magnum. Assignments for European magazines then regularly led Rai to the Tibetans’ Himalayan headquarters in exile, Dharamsala, to photograph the Dalai Lama. The earliest images in A God in Exile are intimate glimpses into the private, everyday world of a dethroned god-king. As their proximity grew, the ease and affection with which they interacted matured into a special friendship.
In charming anecdotes that divide various sections of the book, Rai relates incidents of humour, teasing, and generous cooperation, and of the open-heartedness with which His Holiness has always welcomed and hosted him. Whether allowing him to record private moments during personal pujas and at esoteric closed-door ceremonials, or inviting him to share his 80th-birthday lunch with his surviving brothers and sister and their families, the love and trust is palpable in Rai’s powerful images.
The history of the Dalai Lama lineage, and the discovery and upbringing of the 14th incarnation until his miraculous escape to India in March 1959, are outlined in a detailed and linear essay illustrated by archival images. The very work itself is ‘filled with his godly presence,’ in the words of Raghu Rai – a personal tribute to India’s most cherished guest and political refugee.