Photo-journalist T S Satyan’s work for Life magazine included numerous assignments of events of historic importance. On his recent demise I looked for something I wrote on Satyan on the occasion of the release of his memoir – Alive n Clicking – in Mysore.
Excerpts from Zine 5 column :
Among the more exciting assignments Satyan covered for Life was the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama, then 24 years old, disguised as one of his bodyguards, escaped out of Tibet. After three bitter weeks on the run crossing snow capped passes, he reached the last village in Tibet before entering Assam. Satyan was among those who took position at a place near Tezpur to capture the drama for Life.
An American newsman, in his book, gives an amusing account of world media coverage of the Dalai Lama escape by two other photographers. The Associated Press (AP) and the United Press International (UPI) were fierce competitors, who went to great lengths in their bid to reach their news pictures faster than the other, to newspapers around the world.
Dennis Lee Royale of AP and the UPI man chartered planes, set up motorcycle relays for a frenzied race from the point where Dalai Lama crossed into India to the nearest photo-transmitting point. UPI was the first with the pictures.
A dejected AP man, Royale, got a cable from his office in New York, saying “opposition’s Dalai Lama has long shaggy hair. Yours, bald. How please?’.
Royale cabled back, ‘because my Dalai, right Dalai’.
As it happened, the UPI photographer in haste had mistaken the interpreter for Dalai Lama. Which was how AP won the day.
You will find this account in a book by the then AP Bureau Chief in Paris, Mort Rosenblum. Its title: Coups and Earthquakes : Reporting the World for America