T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture

T.S. NAGARAJAN writes: This is one of my most unforgettable photographs. Khushwant Singh published it when he was Editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. It produced a hailstorm of brickbats from the readers.

There were some bouquets too by those who thought that I had not committed any crime in clicking the camera. Some called it my “worst best picture”. Others said it was a “terrific human interest shot.”

The lady in the photograph is none other than my dear wife. She has stood by me steadfastly all through my life as a photojournalist. I never imagined, one day, she would become the subject of one of my controversial photographs!

Here’s what she says on her experience:

“Sometimes, I get the impression my husband loves his camera more than his wife. Once I went with him to Banaras. While he was ‘shooting’ the monkeys in the famous Durga temple (also called the monkey temple), I stood behind watching him work. Suddenly I felt a strange sensation around my feet. I looked down and to my horror found two monkeys—one pulling my sari and the other scratching my feet. Before I could do anything, a third perched on my head and started monkeying with my plait of hair. Amidst all this agony, I could see yet another growling at me from a pillar in front. I wanted to shout for help but my voice choked. I felt helpless.

“At this point my husband turned round and found me in this plight. His first reaction was to click the camera, which he did with much dexterity and stood aghast; perhaps not knowing what else to do. Fortunately, one of the priests saw what was happening and deliberately dropped a large metal container on the floor. The loud, resounding sound unnerved the monkeys and they bolted away from the scene leaving me unharmed, but in total disarray. We breathed again.

“The priests later told us that the safest thing to do when attacked by monkeys is to distract them with a loud noise, and they will leave you alone. And if you wish to photograph them, wield a stick in addition to the camera, for while they are curious about the camera, they prefer to stay away from the stick. So, the moral of the story is: Don’t marry a photographer. All Photographers are married to their cameras!”

She is very generous for closing the case with a light-hearted comment. But I must confess that the image keeps coming back in my mind’s eye. This is because the entire experience has a moral implication. To do something because I could do nothing better does not justify the action. The camera does not give the photographer the freedom to convert an experience of pain into an image, much less to hold it as a souvenir.

I plead not guilty. The action was certainly unintentional. I was not an accomplice for what caused the suffering. It was at best an inappropriate response as witness to unfathomable pain. I should be pardoned for incompetence.

Am I guilty or not guilty?  I’m ready to hear it all from you.

Cross-posted on sans serif

24 Responses to “T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture”

  1. Dheerendra Gopal Says:

    Neevu Guilty swamy..alla nimma Madadhi na rakshisodhu bittu Poto
    thegithideralla….Yen Gathi Swamy yenadru hecchu kammi aagidhre.
    Neevu oLLe photographer oppkoLona..aadhre Samaya Sandharbha bedve.

    Photo chennagidhe ..sannivesha kooda..aadhre obbara novalli yirbekdre
    neevu photo thegyodhalli niratharaagirodhu ‘KHANDANEEYA’

    B.T.W if you dont follow my above words please let me know I will retype in english

  2. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Guilty of transient incompetence by not helping spouse when she needed assistance.

  3. Doddi Buddi Says:

    But it takes humility to put the case before the public. Therefore, TSN deserves reprieve.

  4. Nikhil Moro Says:

    TSN Sir, you are the greatest. :P

  5. M O H A N Says:

    Had a good hearty laught.

    Your trained instincts to “shoot” the animal is appriciated. Even i would have been transfixed at such “abnormal” events.

    Thanks god every thing is OK.

  6. Sags Says:

    TSN Sir:
    During my photojournalism classes, students ask me “Sir, When the bus/train you are traveling in, meets with an accident, will you help people or take pictures?”.

    I always ask them “what will you do? Do you help people or look for your dear ones?”.
    Certainly, they say “we look for our dear and near ones”.

    My reply—“for me, dear and near one is my camera or profession”.

    So, one (your) picture says 1000 words, a story and history!.

  7. Suma Says:

    TSN sir, ur absolutely not guilty because what u have done is ithe instinct of photographer inside u. Idhu nimma thappu alla nimma kainalli idda cameradu so don’t worryNivu photo tegeda mele nimma hendathi bagge gamamana kottideera when she has no problem we shudn’t say that ur guilty.

    BTW intha photo beku andaru inondu sigolla alve?

  8. M K Vidyaranya Says:

    Did something like the one you have described happened to T S Satyan
    in Angkorwat temple decades ago when he went for a photographic session there. We were told that a snake bit his wife or someone else and he took picture. Is this story true ? Actually what happened. Please let me know.

  9. Dheerendra Gopal Says:

    Bombat photo saar …yinnu hechu hechu photo uploadisi.

    MKV …yee kathe yelli keludri saar .

    T.S.N nimma photogalunnella Flickr ge uploadisi Nodi ananda padtheevi .

    Nikhil Moro..Neevu Kennesaw na Saar. Naavu Lawrenceville (85N)
    24ne thareeku devasthanakke banni Sankranthi Kannada programmu

  10. E.R. Ramachandran Says:

    Amazing picture, Mr. TSN! Thanks to you as well as your wife. In such situations, reactions are normally reflex actions and you went for the camera, which you were married to much earlier than your wife !

  11. T.S. Nagarajan Says:

    Dear Mr. Vidyaranya,

    Satyan, my brother, was bitten by a snake when he visited the Sungei Kluang snake temple in Malaysia a long time ago. Timely medical attention saved him. Newspapers both in Malaysia and in India flashed the news.

    One unconfirmed report later said that the snake that bit Satyan died!

    T.S. Nagarajan

  12. jeevarathna Says:

    Dear TSN Avare

    Splendid reflex action!

    Any thing mortal if you had attempted could have actually resulted in a catastrophe. Devine and timely help thro’ the priest not only saved your better half but also your camera and this picture !

  13. Dheerendra Gopal Says:

    Jeevarathna yelli sir neevu..Mysore bagge baryodhu nillisbittree

  14. M K Vidyaranya Says:

    Dear Mr.Nagarajan
    Thanks for giving a corrrect picture about the incident.
    The information was given to me by C S Sambashivan former Mandya district correspondentof Deccan Herald and Prajavani long time back when I was working there as Indian Express Corresopondent there.

  15. M K Vidyaranya Says:

    Dear Dheerendra Gopal
    Answer for your question ‘MKV …yee kathe yelli keludri saar’? lies in Mr TSN’s reply. You can also go through my reply to Mr T S Nagarajan.

  16. Nishant Ratnakar Says:

    Dear TSN Sir,
    I don’t think any of us can constitute to be the perfect jury to judge you on this incident. Though each of us can hold an opinion it definitely can’t be a judgement.

    I remember you having told me this the first time we met “You are your best judge. The decisions you make, only you know the reasons best for having arrived there”. (Note: still rings in my mind)

    As for my opinion: I guess this photograph can be considered a testimony to show what is needed to be a committed photojournalist. Dedication and passion for your work shows here. Inspiring image for youngsters like me.
    Sir, Thank you for sharing this photograph

    Nishant Ratnakar

  17. Andy Says:

    your passion seems to be reserved for photography !

  18. Nikhil Moro Says:

    DG sahebare, idhenu ashchariya. Khanditha barthivi. Yaava devasthana? — Balaji, Shakti, Sanatan. Nimmannu gurutisuhudu kashtavagolla antha anisuthe — thumba tejas ullavaroo neevu!

  19. Dheerendra Gopal Says:

    **Off topic *** Sorry ***
    Balaji Temple swamy…gothila stage male ninthirtheeni..hindhae yiro lightindha..nimge tejass gothaguthe..banni naanu guruthistheeni
    Munche yaavagdru kannada programs bandhidheera???

    Monne Kannada cinema tharsi haakidhru namma atlanta nagendra nodidra
    Galaxy cinema nalli??

  20. M. Basavaraj Says:

    Dear T.S. NAGARAJAN,

    It is indeed one of the rarest photographs that I have ever seen! It is shot wonderfully well with utmost presence of mind unmindful of what was happening to your wife by the monkies.

    Yes, you are GUILTY…………..guilty of being more loyal to your camera than to your wife!! Well, if that amounts to your guilt, may you commit many more such guilts in order that we get many more such rare photographs.

    Congrats Mr. T.S.N., well done.

  21. uthamanarayanan Says:

    Photograph needs no comments since photo speaks for itself; this additionally speaks of your passion with photography.People with passion with one art form or another would normally think of the subject they are involved with even greak risk.I can understand your mind-set.Bye

  22. N. Narasimhan Says:

    It has been a very very satisfying experience for me to go through T.S. Nagarajan’s book recently. The rich and varied experiences covered in its attention rivetting convas are a treasure. The easy style of narration, more conversational rather than one of high flown verbiage, helps hold attention right through. The occasional repetition of similar sentences is understandable because each recollection is on a stand alone format.

    His piligrimage through the century old houses, interaction with Kushwant Singh to whom Meenakshi as the newly arrived bride prostrated at his feet to do namaskaram to him as he came to meet you with his flowing untied hair, making him look like a rishi (he was far from anything resembling such an entity!) R.K.Narayan, Sharada Prasad, the graphic narrative about the Natakottai Chettiars, his own experiences as a prospective bride groom, his shooting pictures first when monkeys attacked Meenakshi, her walking up to talk to Nehru, the baba from Varanasi, and many more are all delectable lines and pages to read and relish.

    Having known T. S. Nagarajan and his wife Meenakshi and the contempt they both had for meaningless superstition such as Vastu (she had herself narrated to my wife Kalyani and me how she shoed away a self proclaimed vastu “expert”, who on visiting their home, offered his opinion on how the design was not in conformity with vastu requirement), I am not surprised that she expressed her last will about disposal of her mortal remains, with utter clarity and without emotions.

    In retrospect, I feel that ignorance of the dreaded killer lung cancer afflicting her, was bliss till it was blown away by the discovery. In the few interaction which my wife and I had with Nagarajan and her, she always came through as a very warm hearted person, with a good sense of humour and cheerfull personality. Her equanimity, her being cheerful till her very last, have been typical of the maturity of her mind and her courage to accept with grace, what was made inevitable by a cruel destiny.

    The two of them made a remarkable couple, a living example of being made for each other.

    The last occassion we saw both of them together was when the came and blessed our second son Gautam on the occasion of his marriage two years ago.

    Something that strikes me as an extraordinary coincidence is the sense of values which Kalyani and I share with Nagarajan and Meenakshi. We also do not believe in superstition, rituals, but believe in God for reasons which Pascal quoted by Nagarajan, spelt out so beautifully. My visiting temples, though rarely, is precisely for reasons NagArajan has stated as his.

    He was taken suddenly ill at his grandson Mrithyunjay’s wedding and was hospitalised, thus rendered unable to attend the wedding he was so keenly looking forwarde to. This shocked us, because I know that the grandson and grandfather were close to each other. It took quite some sheen off the wedding itself. We both became nostalgic of the days when Mrithyunjay and he used to come to our home and select comics for taking home to read and return for another helping! When Mrithyunjay who has over the years changed his shape, size, appearance and hair style, had some difficulty in recognising us, I referred to this aspect of the experience. He could connect immediately and hugged me! I came twice to Ashtagram layout where Nagarajan’s home is, thereafter, to attend some family functions, and each time found that his gate was locked. Venkatesh, the Secretary of that Residents Association and a round about relation of mine, came to tell me with lot of pride that he had also gone through the book.


    You must now concentrate on the next book.

  23. mohammad Says:

    sir i have heard about your photography. a few year ago you have taken some photos of Hosur castle for the Taj magazine. can you please be kind to tell me that how can i get those pictures?

  24. Arun Padaki Says:


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