A J PHILIP
The arrival of two photographers from Delhi in the mid-eighties signalled a transformation in photo journalism in Bihar. They were Arun Jetlie and Ajay Prakash Dubey. They were recruited in Delhi and posted at the Hindustan Times in Patna, which succeeded The Searchlight.
Until then, no newspaper in Patna had a regular staff photographer. Neither the Indian Nation, owned by the Maharaja of Darbhanga, nor The Searchlight, owned by the Birlas, which were the two English newspapers in Patna, had a staff photographer.
One of the main reasons for it was that the printing technology did not allow good reproduction of photographs. On the rare occasions when these newspapers published photographs, it was difficult to identify the persons in the pictures.
The Searchlight, where I worked, preferred to use cartoons which came out much better in print than photographs. As a result, we never rejected a cartoon sent by Ranga who was our regular cartoonist in Delhi.
On the rare occasions when we needed a photograph, we relied on KM Kishan, who was a stringer for newspapers and magazines like The Telegraph, SUNDAY, TIME, Newsweek etc.
He was a good photographer whom I heard being scolded in the filthiest language by VP Singh who later became Prime Minister. What angered him was that he took a picture of him spending a penny in public.
Kishan’s wife and children knew how to develop films into photographs, take copies and send them to the newspapers and magazines concerned on their own. His younger brother was later recruited by the Times of India when it opened shop in Patna.
The Searchlight editor RK Mukker banned Kishan from the newspaper when he manipulated a photograph to shore ow that Industries Minister Ramashray Prasad Singh was standing besides Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Dhanbad. This was long before Photoshop!
The fact is that the minister could not reach Dhanbad as his car met with an accident. We filled the gap by encouraging Ashok Karan, who was then cutting his teeth as a Press photographer. At that time, Bihar had another famous Press photographer, Kislaya from Ranchi.
Thanks to Kanhaiya Bhelari, my younger brother Arun became a stringer for the Malayala Manorama group of publications in Patna.
Arun did a photo feature on balloon-flying at Gandhi Maidan at Patna for the Sunday Supplement of the Malayala Manorama. He took the photos himself and also wrote the story himself. It appeared as the cover story. That was, alas, his swan song!
Press photographers were paid an honorarium, besides some extra money for the photographs published. In contrast, Jetlie and Dubey were paid regular salaries, equivalent to that of a staff correspondent, with other allowances.
Offset printing and computer-based typesetting transformed printing technology. At the Hindustan Times, we regularly carried four-column pictures on Page 1. We also had several feature pages where their photographs, along with that of Ashok Karan, appeared regularly. We were liberal in giving bylines.
Sooner than later, the photographers became as famous as the reporters. We had no financial constraints in sending reporters and photographers to cover floods, accidents, calamities, prime ministerial functions etc. Since Dubey was a bachelor, he enjoyed travelling and he, therefore, got more opportunities than others.
While Jetlie had a good camera and several lenses for which he was paid a special camera allowance of Rs 500 per month, Dubey had only one camera. I was able to persuade HT executive president Naresh Mohan to buy professional cameras and lenses, including long-distance ones, for all our photographers.
On Sundays, we used to carry on Page 1 a picture taken in a lighter vein. One night, I noticed Dubey’s picture going on Page 1. He had taken a lot of trouble to take that picture. The caption said, “Which is taller?”
In one frame, he captured the mosque near the Patna Junction which had been dwarfed by the Hanuman Mandir. I did not find it in good taste.
I complimented Dubey for the photograph while removing it from the page. Instead, I published another picture he took. He helped me on another occasion.
One afternoon, famous journalist Kuldip Nayar visited me. He had a film role exposed by Ahok Karan at Rajgir. Nayar, who was on his way to the airport, brought it for me.
I wanted to send a photograph to Delhi. I found Dubey somewhere in the office. I asked him to develop the film and take urgent printouts to be sent to Delhi. I kept Nayar busy for half an hour while Dubey was developing the film.
Nayar agreed to personally take the photograph to the HT office in Delhi “though I won’t be able to meet my friend HK Dua who would have left for home by the time I reach here”. It was an exclusive picture for HT Delhi.
While Jetlie missed Delhi and was trying to get a transfer, no such thoughts ever occurred to Dubey. He enjoyed being in Patna.
I knew Dubey’s father who retired from HT, Delhi. Even after his retirement, he was a regular visitor to the HT House.
He carried a large leather bag full of currency notes. People used to say that he was the second richest person in HT, after KK Birla. If anyone in HT needed money urgently, he could meet Dubey and his need would be met immediately. Of course, he would be there near the cash counter when the workers received their monthly salary.
The last time I met Dubey was when he called on me at the HT office in Delhi. I knew that he could easily find a job in Delhi but he did not show any such inclination. He had become more Bihari than a Bihari.
While many, including Biharis, saw Patna as the best place to fly away from, he never thought of leaving Patna, even when his wife was from Varanasi. One thing that should be said about Dubey was his good health.
Small wonder that he and his friends had a shock when he fell ill two years ago and the doctor in Patna asked him to consult a good oncologist.
He was suffering from the Emperor of Maladies as the biographer of cancer titled his Pulitzer-winning book. He died at the Tata Hospital in Mumbai two days ago. He was cremated at Varanasi on Friday. He leaves behind his wife, a son and a large number of friends. He was a great Press photographer who found his karmabhoomi in Patna. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
(Courtesy: From the Facebook wall of senior journalist, A J Philip)