Krishna Murari Kishan (1952-2015): The world saw Bihar as he saw it

A legendary photojournalist passes away. Krishna Murari Kishan didn’t miss a moment that mattered in the last 40 years

Noted photojournalist Krishna Murari Kishan passed away on 1 February 2015. He had suffered a heart attack on 26 January and had been admitted to Delhi’s Medanta hospital the next day. Kishan was an eyewitness to almost every important sociopolitical, cultural and literary development in the state of Bihar over the last 40 years. He clicked many a breaking news story. Never fighting shy of risks, he sustained gunshot wounds twice. He was associated with many media houses and news agencies. He was a pillar of news photography in Bihar and his untimely death is a great loss for the fraternity.

In the condolence meetings held in his memory, it was demanded that Padmashree be conferred on him posthumously; that a collection of his photographs, especially those of the JP movement, be published in the form of a book; and that a memorial volume on him be brought out. The fact that many different organizations held meetings to condole his death shows his wide appeal in society.

Photo-chronicler of Bihar Movement

Krishna Murari Kishan’s career in photography began in the days of the historic Bihar Movement. He was a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad and used to visit Congress Maidan at Kadamkuan, Patna, to take part in the activities of the organization. Once, on his way back from the Maidan, he went to meet JP, who used to live nearby. Kishan drank water, sat around for some time and then went home. In his own words, “Thus, we met JP almost every day. In those days, he held a top post in the Bihar Relief Committee. He used to serve nan khatai to us. I don’t even remember how and why he persuaded me to take up photography.” Along with Raghu Rai and Satyanarayan, he was among the top photographers who chronicled the Bihar Movement.

KM Kishan3

K.M. Kishan set the highest standards of photojournalism in his long career

In those days photojournalism was nonexistent and newspapers were few. Digital media still lay in the future. Photographs were developed and then engraved on “blocks”. He had to sit in the studios for hours to get the blocks prepared and then cycle to the airport to send them for publication in the national newspapers. But he never let go of his determination to capture every phase of the movement on camera, even if it meant getting a few blows of the police lathis. One can only imagine how costly, risky and full of struggles Kishan’s journey as a photographer must have been.

Kishan was born into a backward Luhar (ironsmith) family. Traditionally, members of this caste have been experts in making agricultural implements like plough, spade and shovel, as well as iron grills, gates, etc. His father Dwarika Vishwakarma ran a bicycle repair shop in Patna’s Dariapur Gola locality. Kishan used to help his father in the shop. Later, he bought 20-25 cycle rickshaws and started renting them out to make a living.

Kishan was born on 17 January 1952 in Dariapur Gola. His mother was Saraswati Devi. Kishan went to Patna Collegiate School, passing his matriculation exam in 1968. He completed his I.Com in 1977 from Commerce College, Patna. He wanted to become a chartered accountant. However, like many of his generation, he could not resist the call to join the Bihar Movement and decided to wield the camera, only to end up as a legendary photojournalist.

In those days, Aryavarta, The Indian Nation, Searchlight and Pradeep were the key newspapers of Bihar. Photojournalism was unheard of. Kishan used to regularly provide photographs of the JP movement to Indian Nation and Aryavrata. Avadh Kumar Jha, who was the chief reporter for the group that brought out both the newspapers, had assigned him this job. While the newspapers remunerated him, JP also used to reimburse him the money he spent on developing the photographs. At that time, the groundwork for the launch of the movement was being laid. Kishan’s mission was to apprise both the state and national media of the activities of the movement.

He sent photographs of all the activities of Bihar Movement to PANA India – a national photo news agency of those days. Along with the news, photographs of the movement helped to widen its reach and impact. Balaji Deoras, Prakash Singh Badal, George Fernandes and Chandrashekhar, among others, visited Patna to meet JP and their visits made the headlines. JP fast emerged as a symbol of national unity. Other leaders hit the limelight in their respective states merely because of the news that they had visited JP. Kishan was the first photographer whom this movement had given birth to.

Camera in hand

It is interesting how Kishan took to photography. When he was studying for his pre-university degree, he used to take two to three tuitions for some pocket money. Coincidentally, the father of one of the girls whom he taught owned a folding Kodak camera (in which eight pictures were taken in one roll of film). It’s when he started using this camera that his romance with photography began. Soon he purchased a Lubitel-2 camera, which then cost him Rs350.

Kishan did not limit himself to documenting the Bihar Movement. In his long career, he set the highest standards of photojournalism. He was dedicated to his job and fear was alien to him. He was always the first photographer to be on the spot whether it was a case of police atrocity or feudal oppression, or political turmoil or popular movements. His photos of the Bhagalpur blindings, Indira Gandhi’s Belchi visit, and of the dacoit Mohan Bind, who had terrorized the people of his area, were milestones of his career. He took these photos, unmindful of the risks involved. His photos were regularly published in prestigious publications like Ravivar, Dharmayug and Illustrated Weekly of India.

He believed that every place had its own gazetteer. That was why he always tried to ensure that his photographs documented the history of the place.

Published in the April 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine

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