Satyan, T S, no more

Heard about Satyan’s  demise from  his  neighbourhood  friend Mr Bapu Satyanarayana ;  shared an auto-ride with  Satyam’s long-time media colleague  Mr Krishna Vattam to his Saraswathipuram residence, Mysore , for the last glimpse of Satyan. His  mortal remains were placed for public homage on his frontyard.  Within  half hour after our arrival  he was carried away to the crematerium.

A graduate from the Maharaja’s,  of 1944  vintage,  Mr Satyan took to photography at a time when most others in his profession were not even schooled  enough to write a photo caption in grammatical English. Satyan  rose to represent Life magazine,  an odd sized and picture-filled weekly founded by Henry Luce in 1936.  As someone accredited to Life , Satyan enjoyed the status of an aristocrat among the Delhi press corps those days.  But this  photo-man from Mysore retained his common touch.

To quote him ,  “My people are not the rich and the famous; they are simple ordinary folk…..(who) were there when I picked up the camera six decades ago, and they have been there every time I have gone back to capture the interesting moments in their lives” So wrote Satyan in 2002, when his In Love with Life –  a photo journey through life –  was released.

Among numerous historic events he covered for Life,  if I remember right , was the flight of Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959.  Among the chapters in his subsequent work – Alive and Clicking – that still sticks in my mind is  Satyan’s  account of a meeting with  Satyajit Ray  for a photo assignment ,  when Ray,  a coffee house regular, took Satyan along for meeting friends at the Calcutta Coffee House.

My association with Satyan dated back to early 60s when I was a sarkari journalist with the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in New Delhi. Despite  our gap in the pecking order in the media, Satyan always found time for a chat whenever he dropped in at my office to collect photographs of government functions and other official events handed out by the PIB photo publicity unit. He had an affinity with reporters and writers in the media.  Being a photographer with a flair for writing  Satyan practised  photo-journalism at a time when they had not invented the term – photo-journalist.
Earlier this evening as I lingered for a while  in front of his residence,  after he was gone, memories of my Satyan connection flashed through  mind.  This photo of his deserted residence may well symbolize  the end of the  Satyan chapter in the book of my life.

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6 Responses

  1. I was shocked to hear about the passing away of Sathyan from my son, after we returned from a get-together from my sister’s house. I had the privilege of receiving the Karnataka Press Academy award along with him, at the Vartha Bhavan in Mysore, as both of us could not attend the award presentation at Belgaum. He was a pioneer among the photo-journalists and a typical Mysorean. May his soul rest in peace.

  2. He was the King of black and white images which will linger for all time.

  3. 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

  4. Satyan’s death has left a hole in my Mysore which cannot possibly be filled or papered over. I came to know him and his family (I knew of him much earleir) when we came to Mysore to settle down in 1995.

    He was much more than a photo-journalist. He was a gifted writer, with a natural ability to bring to life the people he was writing about, the stories that are abundant all around us in India, and the essence of personalities we read about or see on TV. As a friend, he was warm-hearted and generous, companiable, intensely caring for his family and friends, .
    Latterly, he seemed resigned to face the end, but even so, he could take and kindle delight in little incidents, some observation that caught his fancy, something of artistic merit that he came across. He was ciritical of humbug and hypocrisy, and of course he bemoaned the corruption of governance and public life in our country which he loved and served with an artist’s integrity.
    I mourn him, as I mourn the Mysoreans whom I had the luck to befriend, CDN and GTN in recent years.
    Madhavan

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