Named Sathyanarayana Iyer by his parents, an Indian man who describes himself as a writer, publisher, photographer, journalist, cartoonist among other things changed his name to Regret Iyer. Why? Read on to find out.
The 67-year-old told BBC News that his childhood aspiration was to be a journalist and it was that which ultimately led him to change his name.
An avid writer, Iyer first wrote an article as a college student in the late 1970s, asking the existential question many teenagers ask, “Who am I?” The article was published in the college magazine and that was all the encouragement he needed to believe he could be a journalist.
He began by writing “Letters to the Editor” of which many got published.
This made him more ambitious and sent an article to Janavani, a popular Kannada-language evening newspaper, on the history of Bijapur town. A few days later, it was returned to him with a “regret letter”. The letter began with the editor thanking him for his interest in the newspaper, but expressing his regret at being unable to carry the story.
“I was disappointed, but not disheartened,” he told me.
Over the next few years, he kept sending unsolicited letters, articles, cartoons, photos and even poems to English and Kannada newspapers. He wrote about temples and tourist places and also on topics of news interest. His letters complained about public grievances such as poor bus services and garbage pile-ups.
Senior local journalists who had dealt with him in the 1970s and 80s say that “he was the stuff an editor’s nightmares were made of”.
A few of his works did get published, but most of them were rejected and within a few years, he had collected 375 regret letters from all sorts of organisations; and “not just Indian, but also international”.
“I was bombarded with regret letters,” he said. “I had no idea why my material was being rejected and I began to question why I was being rejected every time? But there was no attempt on the part of the editors to tell a writer or a photographer what the problem with his material was.”
Veteran journalist Nagesh Hegde who is credited with giving Mr Iyer his new name later commented that it was Iyers “shabby” writing which got him rejected every time.
“He was a good hunter and gatherer of news – he had a lot of talent for identifying stories, but he had no capability to write in an appealing manner and wrote very shabbily,” Mr Hegde said recently.
“Sometimes I would just publish a piece from him to get him off my back for a bit,” he said.
Then one day in 1980, Mr Iyer visited the Prajavani office after another of his submissions was rejected and told Mr Hegde about his collection of regret letters.
“I asked him for proof. The next day he returned with hundreds of regret letters.”
And so in his column next week, Mr Hegde wrote about “Regret Iyer”.
“Anyone else would be embarrassed and hide the letters, but he proudly displayed them,” he said.
Ever an optimist, Mr Iyer knows how to turn this adversity into his biggest advantage, using his failures as a stepladder to success.
“The editors said they had considered several names for me and finally zeroed in on Regret Iyer,” Mr Iyer said, adding that when he got the new name, “I realised that pen is mightier than a sword.”
So he went to the civil court and got an affidavit to officially change his name.
“I also changed my name on my passport and my bank account and even my wedding invitation card had my new name.
“At first people laughed at me saying that ‘he is foolish man, he must be mad’.”
“There was the humiliation to be faced but my father gave me courage and that made me feel like I’m the luckiest person to walk the earth because my family supported me wholeheartedly,” he said.
Most of his adult life, he lived off the pocket money his father gave him. “The cost of living was low, we lived with my parents and they supported us. They put my children through school and college,” he said.
But gradually, life turned for him as more and more of his letters and photographs began to be published. He had learnt to do the right things and all the major English and Kannada papers in Karnataka began accepting his submissions.
“I was a one-man army with my camera, pen, scooter, helmet and even shirts marked with a logo that said Regret Iyer.”
In time, his wife and two children also adopted Regret as their middle names.
Mr Hegde said Regret Iyer can easily be called the first “citizen journalist” of Karnataka, and maybe of India too.
“For us, he was a real pest, but for readers, he was great. People always look first at small quirky items in the papers and magazines, and his reports and photographs were an ideal fit for them and he gained in popularity.
“His biggest strength was his persistence,” added Mr Hegde. “Other reporters would do the assignment and return, but he would linger. He’d go to any length to get a story: he’d hide behind dustbins, get a scoop. After he became famous, officials began to dread him.”
“He carried his camera all the time – he took pictures of fake beggars, fallen trees, police atrocities, water tap leakages and garbage on the streets.”
Despite his long list of failures, Mr Iyer said he never felt let down because he had a long relationship with rejections.
At times, he even revels in his failures. “I attempted to create an international regret slip collectors’ association, but no-one came forward to join it. You see, no-one wants to be a failure.”
Upon questioning if he ever regretted changing his name, he said not all that adding that he would go down in history as the collector of regret letters.
“A day will come when there won’t be any regret letters. In today’s digital world, many people already ask me what is a regret letter? But one day, all the computer servers in the world will shut down, but my cupboard with regret letters will remain.”