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

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