Remembering T.S. Satyan on his birth centenary
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns, Top Stories

Remembering T.S. Satyan on his birth centenary

December 18, 2023

The first thought that comes to my mind whenever I look at good photographs either in a newspaper, magazine or a gallery has always been that of T.S. Satyan. A photographer par-excellence, a photo-journalist of national eminence who was recognised by the Government of India with the national civil honour of Padma Shri in 1979.

Star of Mysore began its publication on 16th February 1978 and I had no occasion to know him then. He shifted to Mysore from Delhi for good with his family some time later. K. Vijay Kumar, the then District Information and Publicity Officer in Mysore, was supportive of Star of Mysore and quite affable with its Editor, that’s yours truly. Obviously, Vijay Kumar must have thought that a burgeoning evening newspaper published by some one with experience and enthusiasm needed to be supported and asked his old acquaintance T.S. Satyan, now settled in Mysore, to provide photographs to Star of  Mysore if he could.

Now, my friend Vijay Kumar recalls T.S. Satyan’s instant reaction, with a poker face and eyes popping: “What do you think the paper is? Washington Post?”

As an voracious reader of Illustrated Weekly and LIFE magazine in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the late 60s and early 70s, I was familiar with Satyan’s photographs published occasionally in those magazines. I had also read some of his pictorial articles, of course, with photographs taken by himself, in the Air India and Indian Airlines in-flight magazines. Like R.K. Narayan’s writings, T.S. Satyan’s too are so mellifluous the reader is absolutely lost to the outside world. I must be beholden to my friend Vijay Kumar for introducing me to Satyan serendipitously  at some function.

In retrospect, I get the feeling, in truth it was not a casual or formal introduction but an emotional connection between we two. Professionally speaking, we both belonged to the same fraternity, though of different streams. It was like the proverbial love at first sight experience. Soon we engaged ourselves talking inanely about our times in the past — he with his camera and I with my pen — over miserly diluted whisky. The next day when I went to office there was an envelope from T.S. Satyan. On opening, I found a mesmerising black and white photograph with a headline and caption that only he could write and anyone with a sense of aesthetics would appreciate. At last, T.S. Satyan had found his ‘Washington Post’ I thought.

Occasionally, Satyan would drag me along on his errands whenever he found an opportunity to get good pictures. That was how I went to Bylakuppe, Tibetan Colony, near Periyapatna, to photograph Dalai Lama when he was there for few days and to the Sangam in Srirangapatna near Mysore to wait and click the post-cremation ritual of Hindus at the confluence of River Cauvery and Lokapavani. As an advertising man in Mumbai and Pune, I have seen professional, specialist photographers in their distinctive physical appearance and attitude. But it has never been so with my dear Satyan. He was absolutely unassuming; no airs about being an ace photographer with awards and recognition tucked under his belt. Even when it came to eulogising him in Star of Mysore or its Kannada sister publication Mysuru Mithra, he would demur if his name was mentioned with a prefix Padma Shri. “It is not a special qualification like that of a doctor or a rank of an Army Officer,” he would say. Except when visiting clubs or attending a formal function when he would wear his suit and tie, he was always a common man. Dressed in his trademark pants and bush shirt of white or some light colour.

And clubs and social parties he would love to visit and enjoy his chota peg. He was my honoured guest at Sri Kanteerava Narasimharaja Sports Club (Mysore Sports Club) on Lalitha Mahal Palace Road on many occasions. If Satyan was around, be assured there was never a dull moment. A good conversationist, very affable, caring and above all alive and clicking (if he carried his invisible camera hidden inside his small bag). Let me swear like a witness that once that camera came out of the bag into his hands, he was like a possessed person. Kanthara. Like a predator after its prey. And in a flash the camera was back in the bag.

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My experience is that professionals in different streams of work generally do not participate in protests and demonstrations for a public cause. If at all, they would participate if the cause related to their own profession. In Mysore sans any professional concern and time at his disposal, he would wear the mantle of a protester for a public cause sitting under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi or in front of a government office along with other distinguished persons of the sunset club while the young activists would shout slogans and take out  protest marches.

Of such a person, what can I say about his legacy for those he left behind? He had many virtues worthy of emulation by youngsters who would be taking their first steps towards a long journey in life. Among the legacy he left behind, I guess, the foremost one was his dedication to his art, art of photography. His unwavering, passionate pursuit of his profession. Honesty of purpose. That, perhaps, was the secret of his great success, from a small-time photographer, from a small-town Mysore of  those days, to a world-class photographer.

If the renowned cartoonist of The Times of India R.K. Laxman, also from Mysore, was  known for his caricatures of a common man in his cartoons, I can say in T.S. Satyan’s photographs also we can see the common man candidly captured in his various daily chores and avatars. I wonder if his interest for the common man sprang from his innate quality of the heart. A heart full of love and compassion for humanity.

This year to mark the birth centenary of T.S. Satyan (18.12.1923 – 13.12.2009), the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), #22, Kasturba Road, Bengaluru, had arranged an exhibition of some of his great works, aptly titled ‘With great ease: The photography of T.S. Satyan,’ from Aug. 12 till Nov. 20. Myself and my son Vikram Muthanna, the Managing Editor of Star of Mysore, were among a number of friends and admirers of T.S. Satyan who were invited by  MAP to attend the inauguration of the expo  at Bengaluru.

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Even as the expo was on, many well-wishers and readers of Star of Mysore sent their tributes (letters and articles) to be published in this newspaper eulogising Satyan. Those who wish to know the depth of Satyan’s humanitarian, nay divine, act of service to the needy, may go online and read my Abracadabra titled ‘Truth about T.S. Satyan’ republished on Aug. 17, 2023 (originally published in two parts on Dec. 27 and 28, 2009).

In that I had narrated in detail what a beneficiary of T.S. Satyan’s humanism Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, a dalit and a retired senior Scientist from CFTRI, had said at the condolence meeting held at Kalamandira in 2009. The extent of personal trouble taken by Satyan and the care he had showered on Dr. Nanjundaiah belong to the world of Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’.

Like any human being — let that person be a Prophet or a Pauper, Monk or a Monster, Sanyasi or a Samsari — T.S. Satyan lived a life with all its challenges and catharsis, personal sorrows and inner joys. But as I know him during his last years in Mysuru, he lived a life of peace, harmony and service in his private life, professional life and public life. He loved the world around him; his family, his friends, his profession and the people. No wonder the world around him too loved him in abundance.

Yes, 100 years today (Dec. 18, 2023) since you passed through this earth to eternity. Remembering you with love.

Om Sat Chit Ananda.

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