UAE's royal photographer recalls the time Sheikh Mohammed saved his life
Ramesh Shukla is renowned for his iconic images capturing the country’s history
At 82, Ramesh Shukla’s memories of the UAE are golden. Best known as UAE’s unofficial royal photographer, the octogenarian loves recalling his many adventures accompanying the country’s royals over the years.
And the time His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, saved his life is one of them.
“We were at a horse race once and I was really engrossed in taking photos. I forgot my surroundings and didn’t realise I was right in the line of a horde of oncoming horses. I would’ve gotten trampled.”
It was Sheikh Mohammed who quickly jumped up and pulled Ramesh back to safety, says the photographer. “He asked me, ‘Are you trying to get yourself killed?’”
It’s an incident that only served to further impress upon the Indian expat the dual qualities of proactive leadership and genuine care for his people that Ramesh believes the Dubai ruler espouses.
The renowned photographer is full of such treasured stories: from the time Sheikh Mohammed oversaw his recovery when he broke his trigger finger in an accident to the time the leader personally administered his medicine when he fell ill during one of their hunting trips.
‘Art is in my blood’
Ahead of the UAE’s 49th National Day, the veteran revealed even more rare and never-seen-before snaps from his colossal collection. “You could explore this place for a week and still not be done,” he smiles.
A tour around one of Ramesh’s apartments in Karama, which he only half-jokingly calls a “godown, not a house”, is enough to substantiate that claim. Practically every surface in the vast living room is covered with photos of the UAE’s rapid development over the years — right from before the seven emirates became a federation in 1971. Many take pride of place in frames on the walls; others are stacked in loose piles on tables. A glass case showcases some of his precious cameras, while the nine books he has published are arranged in neat rows on a coffee table. “I still have 2,000 rolls of film from those days I’ve yet to expose,” he adds.
But we’re in for a surprising discovery when we turn our attention to the rest of the house. UAE’s ‘royal photographer’ can paint true-to-life artworks of the country’s leaders just as skillfully as he can frame them in the eye of a camera lens. From the corridor to a little hallway to four bedrooms packed so tightly with frames there’s hardly room to stand in them, Ramesh is the proud creator of “more than a thousand” watercolour and oil paintings of the country he calls his own. “This is my bank,” he quips, before explaining, “Art is in my blood — but photographs made me famous.”
His dream looks as far into the future as his iconic work is steeped in the past. “I want to work till I’m 100 years old,” says Ramesh. “After 100, if I’m still alive, I’ll start living. Till then, I want to take photos.”
The senior citizen wishes the UAE’s leadership long life “so that they can do more for their country” and is confident of its continued success. “Where the leadership is strong, the country will progress,” he says, sagely. “I am very proud of how far the UAE has come… proud that I could photograph my home.”