‘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