‘Simplicity and grace born out of real greatness’


K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: On the morning of the first of July, which happens to be Doctors’ Day, I received a telephone call from our famed photojournalist T. S. Satyan, who after having done us all proud, now lives in retirement here in Mysore.

After wishing me, he said he wanted to send me a book as a Doctors’ Day gift and, therefore, asked for my address.

Quickly surmising that I would lose an opportunity to spend a few moments with him if I allowed him to send it to me by post or courier, I offered to go over to his house and collect it personally.

He seemed satisfied with the arrangement I had suggested and hung up saying that he would look forward to my visit.

Although I do not need any coaxing to accept a book as a gift or even as a loan, I was too preoccupied with my routine work for the whole of the next week, I somehow never got down to collecting it until I received a second call from him which made me feel very guilty that my humility did not match his.

I quickly apologised for the delay in picking it up and offered to do it immediately. In less than thirty minutes I was at his place when his wife opened the door and let me into their drawing room. This was my second visit to their Saraswathipuram house and she seemed a little disappointed that I had not brought my wife along.

I explained that I had just made a small detour to their house while shuttling between rounds at two hospitals. The two ladies certainly had hit it off very well the last time they had met when I had paid Satyan a visit before writing my first article about him in connection with his birthday.

Although I had spent considerable time with him then and it had seemed as if I was imposing a strain on him, I had returned with a feeling that I had not had a sufficiently long chat. This is how it always is whenever I have a tete-a-tete with someone who is so full of information and experience and shares them through many interesting anecdotes. This time too he was no different.

A very composed and calm man with no airs of any kind, telling me about his life and the times he had seen while I was slowly sipping the coffee served by his wife.

Seeing a framed copy on the wall across where I was seated, our conversation turned to his very famous shot of Jawaharlal Nehru entering the Parliament house in 1963 to present the white paper on the Chinese aggression that had spurned and trampled the Panchasheel Agreement.

The picture shows a deeply contemplative and almost sad looking Prime Minister with the document clutched in his right hand walking against a dark and foreboding looking backdrop with daylight streaming in through five windows that ironically symbolise the five elements of the now broken agreement with China.

He explained to me that he had accompanied Nehru to the Parliament house in his car after a photo session at his house to capture him against this symbolically significant background for this shot which he had visualised in his mind and planned well in advance.

The book he gave me is very aptly titled Complications. Authored by Atul Gawande, it is a gripping account of a young surgeon’s experiences with the practice of medicine. In it are very moving accounts of the eternal struggle of the men and women who try to do some good as doctors against steep and unpredictable odds often to be met with disappointment, failure and sometimes even with unfair criticism and castigation.

The book makes riveting reading and I feel every doctor and patient should read it and Satyan could not have chosen a better gift for me or for that matter even a better recipient for it this time!

When it was time for me to say goodbye to this great man, I was deeply emotional about his affection and love for me. As we stood for a brief while at the door, I was clutching the book with both hands and he was clutching the mug of coffee from which I had just drunk.

Again, with both hands and, of course, with all the simplicity and grace that is born only out of real greatness.

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared

This article was originally published on July 17, 2009

Star of Mysore facsimile: courtesy Tasveer

Also read: T.S. Satyan on the elements of photography

The accidental artist

Tags: , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “‘Simplicity and grace born out of real greatness’”

  1. Mysore Peshva Says:

    What a moving account!

    Your emphasis of Sri. Satyan’s simplicity is telling:

    Voltaire, the Enlightenment philosopher, writes (more than 200 years ago) that exaggeration is an inseparable companion of greatness. In contrast, in India we have cultivated a culture in which SIMPLICITY, or humility, is.

    Your narrative talent enhanced my morning cuppa. Thank you, sir.

  2. Madhu Rao Says:

    Beautifully written. The prose does great to highlight the lietmotif of simplicity. As has been noted here in response to similar articles, there is an undeniable charm in the Mysorean simplicity. Many a times, it is a common denominator that a lot of these great men/women from Mysore share. Is it just that era ? is it the upbringing ? the culture ? Whatever the reasons many thanks to it as this simplicity harshly contrasts with the present day creed of URAs..

  3. namma_nadu Says:

    This is what i love at churumuri…thanks. I have never known Mr. Satyan or his works and it has been one of the great learnings i have from churumuri. Thanks a ton for telling us some wonderful stories when there is so little to read in our local newspapers…scandals, politicians and the usual depressing stuff…soldier on Churumuri

  4. kingkhan Says:

    KJN,you are very lucky. You get to meet all the best guys.


    T S Sathyan is a living legend. He has not forgotten his school friends, even after long stay outside Mysore. His each photo is a story by itself.

  6. H.RBapu Satyanarayana Says:

    Passing away of T.S Satyan is not only a personal loss to me and my family but it is as if Mysore has lost its most precious gem for he represented a rare class of people who lived a life of exemplary values which are fast disappearing. In his death an era ends and Mysosre has been orphaned for a legend of our times has passed into history.
    During his life time the titles and awards he received are innumerable. Unlike most who exhibit it in their houses there is no trace of it. His life was marked by spartan simplicity and only evidence of his exploits with his camera which earned him his livelihood and national and international fame was only the famous photograph of the pensive Nehru walking in the corridors of the parliament weighed down by the heavy thought of China’s perfidy.Other photographs are a few of his family members that occupied the corner of his drawing room.
    Titles did not matter to him and he took them in his stride, neither happy nor unhappy. In fact when the citation of padmashree bestowed on him by govt of India was lost during the transit of his personal effects when he came down to Mysore from Delhi he was least bothered.Even the title of Doctor awarded to him by the University of Mysore sat lightly on his frail shoulders and he never flaunted it by adding it as a prefix to his name In fact he would resent if anybody addressed him with this tittle. He was very happy to be called as simply Satyan. He preferred to be known as photo journalist instead of being called a photographer for he had a very evocative style of writing that reminded of another legendary Mysosrean R.K.Narayan.
    It was with very great difficulty I had to control myself from breaking down for there are too many memories that come flooding as he was a daily visitor to my house. He loved the coffee prepared by my wife and the delectable rusk he would enjoy with child like delight. Both my wife and myself eagerly looked forward to his gentle knock and peering through the opening of our metal door with his favorite hat perched on his head. He would regale us with his personal experiences that would enthrall us.In fact two years ago we entreated him to come out with another book that would have been a hit . He did promise but I could see somehow or the other he seem to have gradually lost his original energy to embark on a new writing venture.It is only since past two years his visits to our house gradually tapered off as he experienced difficulty for taking long walks.
    My heart is heavy to continue and I can only say I miss him for in his death I have lost an elder brother whom I admired and adored.. May be he is now journeying to a better world. I can only pay my humble homage to him as a wonderful friend of our family. We miss his presence sorely as indeed host of his friends and admirers. We are conscious that his death has come as a terrible loss to his family and we can only pray God that he may in his infinite mercy give strength to bear his loss with fortitude. Adieu Satyan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: