Posts Tagged ‘T.S. Satyan’

T.S. Nagarajan, a legend and a gentleman: RIP

18 February 2014


tsn_now1churumuri records with deep regret the passing away of the legendary Mysore photographer, T.S. Nagarajan, in Madras this morning. He was 82 years old.

Younger brother of the equally accomplished T.S. Satyan, Mr Nagarajan had been ailing for some time and had shifted from Bangalore to be with his family.

The end came at 10.40 am, according to his daughter Kalyani Pramod.

Mr Nagarajan, a former photographic officer in the photo division of the government of India—who became a photographer thanks to the maharaja’s elephant—spent a lifetime shooting pictures of homes and houses, especially their interiors. He wrote about his “most unforgettable picture” in 2006 without the photograph, letting readers imagine—and then provided the picture (above).

Like Mr Satyan, Mr Nagarajan was brilliant with painting word-pictures and wrote several pieces for churumuri, which he then compiled into a book for private circulation. A 4,624-love story of his wife and life companion for 50 years, Meenakshi—“I thought she would live forever“—was received to global acclaim.

Mr Nagarajan’s most selfless act as a photographer was to make available, through churumuri, in 2008 a picture he shot in 1955 for All India Radio of the Kannada literary legends at one table, for all Kannadigas to use and re-use—free of cost, with these words:

“I had just graduated from the First Grade College and was entertaining ambitions of becoming a photojournalist. I had a broken (and repaired) Argoflex camera, a present from my celebrated elder-brother T.S. Satyan, with which I took this picture.

“Akashvani paid me a handsome sum of Rs 6 for using it in their programme journal.

“I stumbled upon this print while looking for another rare picture of my grandmother from a stack of old prints. I feel this picture does not belong to me now. It belongs to all Kannadigas. Therefore, I request churumuri to offer it on my behalf to all lovers of Kannada by placing it in the public domain.”

A book of his pictures Vanishing Homes of India was released by Mani Ratnam and N. Ram last month.


By T.S. Nagarajan: I thought she would live forever

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

The Sharada Prasad only I knew

External reading: The T.S. Nagarajan interview

T.S. SATYAN: Small, simple, casual, basic, humble

12 December 2012


Tomorrow, December 13, is the third death anniversary of Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan, the legendary photojournalist and contributor and well-wisher of churumuri.

Here, a friend pays tribute.



All photographers working with life-forms, more so humans, would at some time or the other have wished they had the power to become invisible.

A power to enable them to take pictures without the subject becoming conscious of being photographed.

The sight of a camera has something hypnotic on the human mind.  It deep freezes expressions and transforms them to look anything but natural. A kind of rigor mortis of the facial muscles sets in. Further damage is caused when the photographer announces his readiness by saying ‘smile please’.

Barring blissfully ignorant children who have  not yet come under the spell of the camera, the effect is universal.

Even veteran actors struggle all their lives to look their natural self in front of a camera.

The incredibly true-to-life human portrait that T.S. Satyan was able to capture in his camera was largely due to his remarkable skills of camouflaging  not only the camera but himself as well.


Satyan’s  presence in a crowd was hardly noticeable. The man was of average height, lean, brown skinned, soft spoken, dressed in a dull bush shirt and pant, wore chappals for foot wear, and seldom established eye contact.

As nondescript  as R.K. Laxman’s ‘Common Man’.

He even spoke the language of the common man.

Unlike most of us who are prone to draw attention or be recognized in an assemblage of people, Satyan worked hard on remaining  unnoticed. He seemed to have perfected the art to the extent he came close to being non-existent. Being physically small made, his movement too was easy and without a rustle. He took small steps when he moved.

Everything about him was casual and unhurried.

Satyan belonged to the age of black and white films and SLR cameras. He refused to be lured by the technological marvels of the digital camera.

He remained a Brahmin in that sense.

The camera he used was basic, compact and each exposure required manual settings.  He carried the equipment in a cloth bag slung over his shoulder which reached down to his hip.  It had a wide opening at the top which enabled him to remove and slip in with ease.

The camera came out of the bag only after he had seen a setting worthy of a picture.

With a basic camera that Satyan carried, there wasn’t too much scope for fiddling with the settings.  He seldom carried more than one lens and therefore no fuss about changing them and drawing attention.  The picture quality was discovered only after the film was processed.

To Satyan’s generation of photographers, the mind, the eye and the body had to be in total sync, before freezing the frame.


Once I spotted Satyan in Devaraja vegetable market; his favorite haunt in Mysore where he has taken some of his best known pictures.

I resisted the temptation of  catching up with him.  Instead,  I walked behind him keeping a distance.

There was a young man selling raw peanuts.  Satyan stopped a distance from the vendor, stood awhile possibly assessing and exploring  the possibility of a picture.  He then went round the subject looking at the surroundings, frequently looking up at the mid day sun and the shadows it cast.

He then went and sat on a folded gunny sack used as a mat not far from the peanut vendor and the heap of his merchandise in front. The young man momentarily noticed the presence of a stranger sitting close by. I soon noticed that Satyan’s disarming smile and the banter that had put the youngster at ease.

After perhaps a few pleasantries, the peanut vendor went about his business unmindful of the stranger.

The time Satyan sat there hunched and cross legged, the world went by including the local populace.  Neither the vendor  nor the many shoppers noticed that the man sitting there was a celebrated photo journalist whose photographs had appeared in the  prestigious Time and Life magazines.

A recipient of the coveted Padmashri award and a internationally acclaimed  photographer.

Contrary to my expectation, Satyan did not take a picture of the young man. When he got up to leave, the peanut vendor picked up a fistful of peanuts and offered it to Satyan. The gesture was gratefully accepted and Satyan put the offering into his camera bag.

Later when I caught up with Satyan,  I found him feasting on the nuts that he had received.

Curiosity got the better of me when I asked Satyan why he had not taken a picture of the peanut vendor.  It was when he told me that the young man was too conscious of his presence.  With this acquaintance established with the peanut vendor,  he would come back at a later date to shoot him.



Satyan once volunteered to take pictures of children of  the Pratham Mysore Balavadi schools.

When we arrived at Kesare, one of the less developed areas of Mysore, Satyan insisted that we park our car at a distance and walk the last stretch to the school where the children had assembled to make a quiet entry into the school.

He preferred to be by himself with the children and sat on one of the steps outside a class to talk to the children in Urdu as it was predominantly a Muslim locality. The chocolates that he had carried in his camera bag attracted the children like ants to a honey pot.

Of the hour that we spent at the school, Satyan played with the children for a good part of our stay.  They were all over him playing and tugging at his clothing and his bag.  All the  pictures that he finally captured were taken in less than ten minutes.

The children continued to play paying little or no heed either Satyan’s  camera or his work. Needless to say, the man had given thought of all possible situations that he was likely to encounter before venturing out on the assignment.


I met Satyan through his son Nagendra. I was drawn to Satyan from our first meeting both because of my interest in his  profession,  his inimitable sense of humor and his unique story telling abilities.

During our meetings, Rathnamma, his wife, would sit through the evening unmindful of the number of times she had heard the stories.  Except for the occasional reminder not to exceed the quantities of his favorite cashew nuts,  she remained the quiet dutiful wife.

On the 13 December 2009,  I was away in Bangalore when I received a call from his son Nagendra informing me that Satyan was no more.  By the time I reached Mysore that evening,  the house was nearly empty with only members of the grieving family.

True to his persona, Satyan had made quick and quiet exit.

This time to remain truly invisible and  forever.

Also read: Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

The genius of the Indian villager

Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with Sir C.V. Raman

‘Simplicity and grace born out of true greatness’

T.S. Satyan: The man, the memories, the awards

19 December 2011

The governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bhardwaj, with Mrs T.S. Satyan at the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism, instituted by Karnataka Photo News and, at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Sunday

From left, veteran journalist T.J.S. George, governor Bharadwaj, Praja Vani editor K.N. Shanth Kumar, and KPN editor Saggere Ramaswamy go through a special booklet produced for the occasion

And the winners. From left, Nethra Raju, T.J.S. George, governor Bhardwaj, Yagna, 'Regret' Iyer, Bhanu Prakash Chandra, M.S. Gopal, K.N. Shanth Kumar, Saggere Ramaswamy

Images from the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism, instituted by Karnataka Photo News in association with, which were given away at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Sunday, 18 December, the birthday of the legendary photojournalist.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism

And the winners of the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards are…

T.S. Satyan memorial awards for photojournalism

14 December 2011 is pleased to associate with India’s first web-based photo syndication agency, Karnataka Photo News (KPN), for the inaugural T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards in Photojournalism, in honour of the legendary photojournalist—a well-wisher of both churumuri and KPN—who passed away two Decembers ago.

The awards in six categories (lifetime achievement, and best newspaper, magazine, online, freelance  and young photojournalist) will be given away by the governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bharadwaj, on 18 December, Mr Satyan’s birthday, at the banquet hall in Raj Bhavan.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George, and K.N. Shanth Kumar, the editor of Praja Vani, will be the guests of honour. Shanth Kumar, who holds the unique distinction of having covered six Olympic Games as a photographer, will deliver the keynote address.

Nominations for the awards came from the Karnataka media academy, press club of Bangalore, Karnataka union for working journalists and the photojournalists association of Bangalore.

* Entry for the function is by invitation only. A few invitation cards are available on a first-come-first-served basis from the offices of KPN on Infantry Road in Bangalore. Contact Saggere Radhakrishna on 98450-16693 and 98452-47286.

CHURUMURI IMPACT: A train for R.K. Narayan

24 September 2011 is delighted to record the renaming (and flagging off) of the daily Mysore-Yeshwanthpur Express between Karnataka’s two premier cities as Malgudi Express, to perpetuate the memory of India’s first globally renowned English writer, the Mysorean R.K. Narayan.

We are delighted for two reasons.

One, we believe that even as small a gesture as getting a train named after Narayan’s creation, although rather late in coming, is an important signal in giving our literary, social and cultural titans their due.

And two, the railway ministry’s decision is largely if not solely the outcome of the suggestions of churumuri readers across the world, who responded magnificently to our campaign which began over five years ago.

In many ways, therefore, this is a victory of online activism of a kind not generally known or seen in India.


On this happy occasion, please allow us a moment of self-congratulation.

We would like to thank the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, who took the churumuri campaign to the railway ministry in the centenary year of Narayan’s birth; the Union minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna who revived the campaign in the 10th year of RKN’s death; and the railway minister Dinesh Trivedi who gave the green signal.

Additionally,we are thankful to the late Mysorean icon, T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram who took the churumuri campaign to the governor of Karnataka. Several writers have kept the campaign alive over the years by writing pieces on Narayan. S.M. Krishna’s advisor Raghavendra Shastry, played a key role in reactivating the campaign this year.

Above all, we are thankful to our readers. Without you, this small salute for a giant Mysorean would not have been possible.

Coming up next: A stamp for R.K. Narayan.



Train No. 17304: Leaves Yeshwanthpur daily at 11.35 am, reaches Mysore at 3 pm

Train No. 17303: Leaves Mysore daily at 12.10 pm, reaches Yeshwanthpur at 3.30pm


Photograph: courtesy Simon Winchester/ The Guardian

Read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign


Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

9 June 2011

On the 10th anniversary of his passing away, The Guardian, London, has a long piece on the legendary creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, with churumuri‘s own Sunaad Raghuram quoted in it.

churumuri‘s 2006 campaign for keeping Narayan’s memory alive in Mysore, by renaming a Mysore-Madras train as Malgudi Express, connecting the two cities Narayan was connected with, also finds passing mention.

“There is at least one place in Mysore where you can put your finger on the elusive RKN – at his former home, up in the northern suburb of Yadavagiri. It was built to his own specifications in the late 1940s.

“The area, then rustic and isolated, is now a leafy street in a pleasantly breezy uphill location, but the house stands empty and rather forlorn, with a look of out-of-date modernity – two storeys, cream-coloured plaster, with a stoutly pillared verandah on the first floor.

“The idiosyncratic touch is a semi-circular extension at the south end of the house, like the apse of a church. On the upper floor of this, lit by eight windows with cross-staved metal grilles, he had his writing room.

“It had such a splendid view over the city – the Chamundi Hill temple, the turrets and domes of the palace, the trainline below the house – that he had to curtain the windows, “so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day”.

“A few hundred yards up the street stands the smart Hotel Paradise. The manager is Mr Jagadish, a courteous and slightly mournful man with a neat grey moustache. He knew Narayan in the 1980s, when he would sometimes dine at the hotel with his equally famous younger brother, the Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman.

“I ask what he was like, but it is Laxman who stands out in his memory. Laxman was “very funny”, and had opinions about everything, but Narayan was “more serious”. He was a modest man, he didn’t “blow his trumpet”.

“Sometimes, says Mr Jagadish, he has guests who ask him: “Where is Malgudi?” He laughs and taps the side of his head. For a moment I think he is giving an answer to the question – that Malgudi was all inside one man’s head – but what he means, of course, is that the question is daft.

“Narayan was asked it many times, and ducked it in a variety of ways. One of his more enigmatic answers was this – “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived.”

Read the full tribute: Rereading R.K. Narayan

Illustration: courtesy James Fennelly/ Adelphi University, New York

R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

The compassionate humanism of T.S. Satyan & Co

28 December 2009

Star of Mysore editor K.B. Ganapathy, a close friend of T.S. Satyan for decades, on the legendary lensman and his brother T.S. Ramachandran:

“Though born to a Brahmin family, Satyan did not allow himself to be bound by the caste, tradition and rituals. In fact, his mother Rajammal and father Dr. Subramanya Iyer, a medical doctor by profession, had long broken the barrier of caste and creed that our society was steeped in….

“A few days after Satyan’s last hurrah, a meeting was held at Maneyangala in Kalamandira to condole his death. Among the speakers was a senior scientist from CFTRI, now retired, Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, a Dalit by birth. What he spoke on that day was a great revelation about the concern and compassion of Satyan’s parents as also his siblings towards Dalits.

“Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, while studying in Hardwicke High School, was staying at the Dalit Hostel in Jayanagar.

“One Brahmin youngster T.S. Ramachandran, brother of T.S.Satyan, used to visit the hostel to give tuition. As such, Ramachandran was aware of the poor condition of the hostel where the quality of food served was bad and on many occasions not served at all. As a result, some of the students had to starve.

“Seeing the predicament of Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, Ramachandran arranged for food and shelter in his house with the permission of his parents, which was granted without reservation.”

Also read: Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

‘Hinduism is in a crisis; there’s a civil war within’

Hurgaalu & Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

14 December 2009

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: On 13 December 2009, The Picture Editor upstairs decided to set the shutter speed of the life’s camera of a venerable man to a metaphorical 1/125.

On that day, the shutter curtain of one of the finest photo-journalists of his era opened and closed even before anyone could realize what had come about.

T.S. Satyan lay still, his eyes closed for ever.

He had become one with his Maker.

As the tongues of flame began to lick his pyre at the foot of the brooding omniscience of the Chamundi hills in his favourite city of Mysore, the sun was about to set in a haze of orange; the mynahs among the branches chirped faintly; a cow mooed in a tone of voice that heightened the feel of the sepulchral.

Satyan was on his way out to a “happier world”.

Soon, in six to eight hours, they said, the ashes of his mortal body would collect on the platform of aged stone, the very platform that was facilitating his passage to the world beyond.

As I stood close to the pyre, along with my friend Saggere Ramaswamy, staring in blank confusion at the ways of the Creator, the terms and conditions of whose policy make it incumbent on all those alive today to die some day at some pre-ordained hour, the chirpy, friendly, adorable, gentle and affectionate man called Satyan came back alive.

In my thoughts.

My mind began to travel to the time when the two of us had been such good friends, friends separated by a mere four decades plus a little more in age, but gloriously united in spirit, completely because the man in question had been endowed the power, among the rarest a man can hope to aspire, of making every single person he met, feel so completely at ease and disarmed.

Not for Satyan any form of aggrandisement in the heat of his stupendous achievements with the camera as also the pen.

Not for Satyan the importance to the self, the blowing of the bugles about some photograph well composed or some prose well conceived, although there were perhaps a few hundred or even a thousand such creations in both forms of his craft that he could have spoken about, bragging almost without end.

Not for Satyan the postulation of a hoary past where men of his type, men who could wield the camera and the pen with such complete unequivocal ease and chronicle an event or even a whole era with such stupendous impact, were as rare as hen’s teeth.

Not for Satyan even a suggestion of pompousness or supercilious patronizing when it came to life; life post-retirement, in the old, quiet suburb of Saraswathipuram, where the neighbourhood did not exactly boast of men and women who had been trail blazing world beaters of any kind in their time.

The sight of Satyan walking to the post office on 10th main road with a suggestion of a arthritic shuffle or to the Canara bank next to the park on the same road, simply amazingly did not give away the secret that he was a man, who in his time was one of the greatest of his tribe.

A man who presided over the very manner in which photojournalism in our country took shape in the 1940s, at a time when the camera as an instrument of the media and its infinite chronicling power, was as well known to the masses as shark fin soup to a traditional vegetarian.

Satyan was a remarkable man, which is like saying, the elephant is a very huge animal.

But for someone like me, who had the opportunity to be friends with him and share moments of such grace and gentility issuing forth almost endlessly from the man who could hold nothing but warmth in the cockles of his soul, to make a feeble attempt to explain his persona is a tad difficult.

For, Satyan epitomized such wonderful qualities, that anything I say could seem to veer towards the text book definitions of how an evolved man should be.

But that was the man. A man whose very face mirrored the mellow, nuanced emotions inside him, his large cheerful eyes conveying a sense of bonhomie and vivaciousness of spirit, never mind even if they were some 80 odd years old.

And spirits he had but in small measure. Of the alcoholic kind I mean! Scotches and preferably Black Dog, if you please. Pouring a small measure and suffusing it with copious soda enough to drown a man, he loved long conversations while his right hand gently picked either ground nuts or hurgaalu from the side-table next to him.

Speaking of the Mysore of his days, the Maharaja’s College, his friends of the likes of H.Y. Sharada Prasad and R.K. Narayan and the legendary writer’s love of “mosaranna with uppina kayi“, which he insisted on having every time he dropped by at Satyan’s, his interesting trysts with the royal family, reminiscing the time when he trod the back alleys of Shivarampete, the studio where he got his early prints done; Satyan loved to languorously travel back in time, like an accomplished collegian remembering his kindergarten days.

I particularly remember the trip the two of us did together for eight full days in my jeep in January 2007 when we travelled to some of the most fascinating places of such infinite charm and beauty in Malnad. Sringeri, Kasaravalli, Megharavalli and even Mathoor.

It was Satyan’s desire to shoot the fascinating interiors of century old Malnad homes, one of which was the devastatingly beautiful and richly carved 250-year-old ancestral home of the famed cine director Girish Kasaravalli. The manner in which Satyan composed his shots in that locale with the grand rose wood pillars of such humongous girth was an expression of complete passion for his craft.

The positioning of the camera, a Nikon of indeterminable vintage; the angle, the composition of the frame, the optimum use of the naturally available light, the checking and re-checking of the parameters, bending and peering through the lens time and again, in spite of his painfully arthritic knees, the gentle readjustments, the tiny shifting of the camera position before he was convinced that all was well for a perfect shot.

Just one click of the button and there would be a classic to hold in your hands.

I was mesmerized as I stood on the sidelines and watched the master at work. So far removed indeed from the regulation photographers who shoot with their SLR cameras of high sophistication, as if they were handling a self loading rifle in the face of an enemy onslaught.

Satyan was precise, to the point and clear as to what he wanted his camera to do for him.

On that trip, we drove leisurely around the countryside, endless hours of chatting and joking with Satyan even breaking into song at times.

At Sringeri, he asked me to take him to a century-old ‘agrahara’ (Brahmin enclave) called Vaikuntapura, where incidentally, the famous Kannada film, Vamshavruksha had been shot.

Satyan himself had shot a famous picture of his here. A photograph which features a wizened old woman with her shaven head covered, sitting on the parapet of the veranda of her ancient tiled house, and smiling amusedly into the camera with a baby close to her, and rain drops falling in a small slender cascade from the roof!

An old man recognized Satyan straightaway as we walked into the narrow alley of the agrahara. He remembered the famous photograph and remarked that the small baby in that picture was now a mother herself and living in Bangalore!

Satyan was pleased to be there and pointed to me the various houses he had spent time in on that assignment.

As we returned to Sringeri and entered the temple precincts, he wanted to know the whereabouts of ‘Moorne ManeRam Bhat, the chief priest of the temple in the 1970s, an imposing man he had framed with a Palmyra umbrella in hand and in conversation with another priest in front of the imposing arch of the famous temple.

Ram Bhat had since been deceased but the other priest in that well-known photograph, who was his understudy at that time, was still around to greet Satyan affectionately!

And then onto Manipal, where he suddenly decided to meet his old friend M.V. Kamath, the legendary journalist and editor. It was a sight to see the two old friends exchange pleasantries and settle down for coffee. Satyan even addressed impromptu, a gathering of journalism students at the media institute there at the behest of Kamath, who introduced Satyan as one of the living legends of Indian photo-journalism, nothing less!

Indeed, Satyan could write prose with such effortless lucidity and simplicity that the sentences flowed like a beautiful stream making its way through a carpet of flowers somewhere in the mountains, uncluttered and without a stutter. So much like his mind, simple and unostentatious. This was rare indeed.

For a photographer to have the twin gift of being able to wield a pen with such felicity. A photo-journalist nonpareil.

To me, Satyan even in death, is alive and clicking!

Photograph: T.S. Satyan at work during his 2007 sojourn with Sunaad Raghuram at a Catholic home near Manipal. (‘AstroMohan/ Karnataka Photo News)

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with C.V. Raman

13 December 2009

The world is an infinitely darker place when gems of the lustre of T.S. Satyan and his great friend H.Y. Sharada Prasad start shining no more. Sixty-one years ago, Satyan, then still fresh in the profession, met an acknowledged jewel, Sir C.V. Raman, for a feature in Deccan Herald, which he recounted later for Outlook magazine*.



My first meeting with Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, the eminent physicist, is still green in my memory.

One day, in l948, I telephoned the Nobel laureate to ask if I could meet him at his convenience and photograph him for an illustrated feature.

I was apprehensive about getting an appointment from so busy a person, but was pleasantly surprised when he asked me, “How much time would you need?”

An hour, I said.

Raman went on to say those thirty minutes would do. I could see him the next morning at nine sharp. “Come on time,” he warned.

I dutifully reported my success to Pothan Joseph, Editor of Deccan Herald, which had been started barely a month ago. “Be punctual and conduct yourself with grace,” Pothan counselled me. He told me that Raman was a man of quick temper and so I should not throw my weight about in his presence, just because I was a newspaperman.

“He may get angry if you direct him to act before your camera. He is particular about the rules he sets for himself,” he warned.

After listening to all these do’s and don’ts I felt somewhat nervous because, I was going to photograph a celebrity for the first time.

I decided to take another person with me for moral support. My choice fell naturally on my alter ego of those days, M.S. Sathyu, now a noted film director, but barely out of his teens then.

Sathyu and I were great friends from our school days and he used to keep company with me on my assignments.

Contrary to our fears, we found Raman extremely affable and gentle. He seemed very cooperative as I photographed him in his study, laboratory, library and the garden he loved. All this took twenty minutes and I still had ten minutes left to complete my job.

Then, a bright idea struck me and I told Raman that I would love to photograph him with Lady Raman.

“Forget about her. She is not here,” he said.

And then a brighter idea came to my mind.

Summoning the required courage, I asked the scientist: “Sir, may I take one last, important picture? Will you please pose for me displaying your Nobel Prize citation?”

Pursing up his lips, Raman gazed at me, while my heart began to pound rapidly. He relaxed in a minute and, to my utter surprise, said, “Why not?”

He went into a room to fetch the precious document.

“I’m lucky,” I hissed in Sathyu’s ear. I entrusted my brand-new Speed-Graphic camera to his care and set about adjusting the furniture and books in the room, for the all-important picture.

Raman had meanwhile returned, holding the scroll, and stood beside a blackboard on which was scribbled in chalk, the diagram of a galaxy and other mathematical calculations. He looked at me and said, “It’s getting late. Shoot!”

When I was about to pick up my camera from Sathyu who was standing in a corner, the silence in the room was shattered by the sound of metal hitting the ground. We looked around and found to our dismay that Sathyu had dropped the camera.

Raman’s face was livid with anger.

He walked up to Sathyu, gripped him by the collar and thundered: “Do you know what you have done? You have damaged a beautiful instrument of science. Why weren’t you careful?” We were shaken and mumbled our apologies. Our minds were a malange of shame, confusion and embarrassment.

Raman’s anger subsided within a minute.

Holding the camera in hand, he carefully examined it as an experienced doctor would a patient.

He wrote on a piece of paper: “Prisms out of alignment. Replace one broken piece and realign. Set right the metallic dents.” He pressed his prescription in my palm and gave us the marching orders saying, “You may leave now.” My first photo session with the Nobel Laureate and Bangalore’s most famous citizen, had ended in a fiasco.

* Disclosures apply

Photograph: courtesy T.S. Satyan

Read the full story here: The Raman Effect

By T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time in our Mysore

13 December 2009

Like many great photographers and artists, T.S. Satyan had a way with words. He wrote lovely prose with great care and economy, the simplicity of short words often disguising the enormous wisdom.

Like his images, Satyan’s words “captured the common man with uncommon honesty“.

Here is one of his trademark pieces for on Mysore, once upon a time, published in April 2006. A piece that reveals a razor-sharp memory, an eye for detail and a Mysore that used to be.


Like an unhurried hiker, I walked through the streets of Mysore which had been washed by a light rain the previous night.

My eyes feasted on the enchanting carpets of fallen flowers–the yellow tabebuia, purple jacaranda, pink and white acacia, besides other blooms.

The air was rich with the fragrance of floral bounty, accentuated by the aroma of jasmine and ‘sampige’ wafting from homes which also had bushes of croton, a guava tree and a coconut palm.

I could hear girls playing on the harmonium as they practised their music lessons while their mothers were busy washing the house-fronts with cow dung and decorating them with eye-catching rangoli designs.

Breakfast was already cooking in some homes and I could smell the oggarane––a seasoning of dried chilli and mustard seeds fried in oil, an essential ingredient of Mysore cuisine.

Small groups of people, some wearing the traditional Mysore turban, were enjoying their morning walk. I followed one which was heading for my favourite restaurant in town.

For many decades, its proprietor refrained from naming his establishment which became better known as ‘Nameless’, whose speciality continued to be the “set” which I ordered for myself.

The “set” served on a banana leaf was a pile of four soft dosas, free from oil and topped by coconut chutney, potatoes and two small pats of butter.

Some ‘Nameless’ regulars who were butter-addicts brought in their own larger stock from a nearby shop. They would splash the butter with ferocious fervour on the warm ‘sets’ whose softness seemed to resist the probe of their fingers.

All of us washed down our ‘sets’ by drinking the celebrated Mysore brew––the steaming filtered coffee.

To those with a low appetite or a lean purse, or wanting to share the “sets” and coffee, the restaurant ungrudgingly offered “one-by-two” and even one-by-three” service which is something very special to Mysore: Your right to eat the quantity you needed or to share it with another was recognised by the owner.

Mysore then was free from the impact of the broad gauge train and the jet plane.

It was famous not only for its cuisine but also for agarbathis (scented incense sticks), areca, betel, silk and sandal. One was struck by the vast variety and abundance of flowers in the markets and their regular use by every one in town. Jasmine––mallige–-was the people’s favourite.

Right opposite the restaurant where I ate, I saw many girls and women buying arm lengths of jasmine to adorn their plaits. The most popular book of modern Kannada poetry by K.S. Narasimha Swamy is named after the jasmine––Mysooru Mallige.

I returned home in an auto rickshaw which was also filled with jasmine scent. In front of the driver was a framed picture of Hanuman decorated with strings of mallige.

I complimented him on his good taste only to be told that he had to eat only half a ‘set’ at the restaurant so that he could buy the flowers.

Did not Saadi say that if he had two loaves, he would sell one and buy a narcissus?

Photograph: T.S. Satyan, then 85, shooting the kusti at the Mysore Dasara in October 2007 (Karnataka Photo News)

Visit T.S. Satyan’s Tasveer portfolio: here

T.S. Satyan’s last few interviews: The Hindu-I, Mint, The Hindu-II, Frontline Club, Time Out


Also read: T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. NARAYAN only I knew

‘Simplicity and grace born out of real greatness’

13 December 2009


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


13 December 2009 records with deep and profound regret the passing away of the legendary photo-journalist Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan in Mysore this afternoon.

Mr Satyan was five days away from his 86th birthday. He is survived by his wife Nagarathna, children, grandchildren and a City (and a profession) he dearly loved till his last breath.

Mr Satyan belonged to a golden generation of the Maharaja’s College in Mysore in the 1940s, from which almost everybody ascended to reach great heights in life. He took to photojournalism at a time when neither photography nor journalism was the first-choice profession and communicated with images the way another famous co-townsman of his (R.K. Narayan) did with words: simply and honestly, without any frills.

Fittingly, for someone who was full of life, Mr Satyan titled his memoirs In love with life. In the last few years, the octagenarian developed a love for the wired world, and wrote several pieces for churumuri, whose friend, wellwisher and guide he remained from the day of its inception.


Also read: An interview with T.S. Satyan


T.S. Satyan on

Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

The genius of the Indian villager

When the Maharani went on the campaign trail

29 July 2009


Two beautiful voices—D.K. Pattammal and Gangubai Hanagal—fell silent last week.

This week, two beautiful faces radiate  no more: Leela Naidu and Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The rajmata of Jaipur, whom Sarojini Naidu called the “little queen of a fairy tale land”, once one of the ten most beautiful women in Vogue‘s estimation, passed away in London today at age 90.


In his memoirs Alive and Clicking, T.S. Satyan describes how he got to snap his magnificent picture of the Maharani campaigning during the 1962 parlimentary elections.

“In her dawn to dusk election campaign, the Maharani drove a car wherever there was a road and switched over to jeep on country terrain. In many villages, she was served tea in porcelain cups.

“‘It is not becoming on my part to offer tea in the mud pots that we normally use. So I bought these things from the money I had saved,’ a villager near Tonk, on the outskirts of Jaipur told me.”

Elsewhere, Satyan describes the week-long experience:

“She used to visit the villagers and understand their problems. In doing so sometimes she became just one of them.”


“Sadly one cannot go anywhere near politicians [like that] now.

The Maharani was 41 years of age during the election campaign. Time magazine described “her lithe figure wrapped in a peppermint chiffon saree“:

“The Congress’s party’s economic policy is like growing a babul tree and expecting to get mangoes. They come to you when they need your vote; when they are returned to power, they become, little monarchs who levy taxes on you as they please, make you quarrel with each other, and swell their bank accounts.”

Also read: Whistle-stopping Maharani

Also visit: Her Highness, Maharani of Jaipur

On Facebook: Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School

It takes all types to keep a City clean and green

19 June 2009


At the beautiful Gangothri Glades cricket stadium in the city that produced English language wordsmiths of the calibre of R.K. Narayan and R.K. Laxman, Raja Rao and U.R. Anantha Murthy, H.Y. Sharada Prasad and T.S. Satyan, a small epitaph to the gigantic ocean of learning, Manasagangothri, behind it.

Also read: So that your childrens doesn’t learn English

Arly to rice makes menu helthy, velthy and vice

Whichever way you hit the water, it is cool

12 June 2009

KPN photo KPN photo

Decades ago, T.S. Satyan shot a famous black-and-white picture of young boys in various stages of diving into a pond. Modern-day colour versions (and variations) of it, like this one at the Ulsoor Lake in Bangalore, only underline the old axiom that the lake is always greener on the other side of the millennium.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Happy birthday to Mysore’s youngest lensman

18 December 2008

imageasp2The acclaimed photojournalist T.S. Satyan, a 22-carat Mysorean, turns 85 years young today, 18 December 2008. churumuri joins the world in wishing him a very happy birthday, and many more.


Tasveer, the art gallery, is marking the occasion with an exhibition entitled “A Long Exposure”, which feature a collection of Satyan’s photographs, from December 19 to 31 at Sua House, No. 26/1, Kasturba Road, Bangalore. It will be open to the public from 11am to 6 pm.


T.S. Satyan on

Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

One for the album: A picture worth 7,000 words

9 September 2008

Left to right: Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, D.V. Gundappa, K.V. Puttappa, M.V. Seetharamaiah, K.Shivarama Karanth, A.N. Krishna Rao and G.P. Rajaratnam

T.S. NAGARAJAN writes from Bangalore: This rare photograph of the seven legends of Kannada literature sitting together for a discussion programme in a studio of Akashvani, Mysore, was taken by me in 1955, well before the radio station became All India Radio.

I had just graduated from the First Grade College and was entertaining ambitions of becoming a photojournalist. I had a broken (and repaired) Argoflex camera, a present from my celebrated elder-brother T.S. Satyan, with which I took this picture.

Akashvani paid me a handsome sum of Rs 6 for using it in their programme journal.

I stumbled upon this print while looking for another rare picture of my grandmother from a stack of old prints. I feel this picture does not belong to me now. It belongs to all Kannadigas. Therefore, I request churumuri to offer it on my behalf to all lovers of Kannada by placing it in the public domain.

View a larger frame of this picture here

Also By T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture

The most memorable house I photographed-I

The most memorable house I photographed-II

The maharaja’s elephant made me a lensman


2 September 2008 announces with deep regret the passing away of Holenarsipur Yoganarasimha Sharada Prasad, aka H.Y. Sharada Prasad, the legendary Mysorean who served as media advisor to three prime ministers of India, in New Delhi, on Tuesday, 2 September 2008. He was 84 years old, and is survived by his wife Kamalamma, and two sons.

Shourie“, as Sharada Prasad was known to relatives and close friends, was born in Bangalore, educated at the University of Mysore and jailed during the Quit India movement. He joined the Indian Express group in Bombay in 1945, and was a Neiman fellow in journalism at Harvard University in 1955-56.

He edited Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission, after which followed his stints at the prime minister’s office between 1966-78 and 1980-88, under Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi. During the Janata government, he worked with Morarji Desai for a few months before being posted as director of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).

The ultimate exemplar of the “Mysore School of Writing”—not too light, not too heavy—that R.K. Narayan, R.K. Laxman, T.S. Satyan among others exemplify, Sharada Prasad wrote books on Karnataka (Exploring Karnataka with Satyan), on the Rashtrapati Bhavan (The Story of the President’s House), and on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Selected Works).

For someone who shied away from the limelight, Sharada Prasad’s last book was aptly titled The Book I Won’t Be Writing, a collection of columns he wrote for The Asian Age. Although physically unwell in recent years, Sharada Prasad never missed a deadline, somehow managing to get to a computer and send off an artfully composed book review.


M.N. Venkatachallaiah on Sharada Prasad:

“Sharada Prasad is an extraordinary life in our times. He is a 16-annas Mysorean, but he is also a 18-annas Indian. He is a great gift of Mysore to the country, who epitomizes sajjanike, saralate, panditya, humility and simplicity. But concealed behind all this is tremendous learning and the strength of great scholarship.

“In our simple but wonderful culture, connubial felicity used to be the thought behind a husband bringing Mysore mallige to his wife, a little Mysore pak, maybe even some Nanjangud rasabale. To that connubial felicity, we can add the graciousness of Sharada Prasad. Please do not think it as a triviality, it has deep meaning.

“He represents a kind of civilisational culture. A culture of sobriety, dignity, humility and enormous amounts of learning. I request Sharada Prasad to spend more time in Mysore and Bangalore. His presence will have a civilizing effect.”

Photograph: Saibal Das via Flickr

Also read: RAMACHANDRA GUHA on Sharada Prasad

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time, during the Quit India movement

The finest English passage on Karnataka

What your mango says about you