bullets and bylines has an enduring quality
Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today
Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
Arab Today, arab today

Among the better written conflict stories

Bullets and Bylines has an enduring quality

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Bullets and Bylines has an enduring quality

Bullets and Bylines for Shyam Bhatia
London - Arab Today

Reporting from the frontlines of conflict offers a varied experience, from fear to courage to a nuanced understanding of what appears black and white from the outside. There is the glamour of getting under the skin of personalities who appear larger than life but who are in the end, mortals worried about their day-to-day chores and apprehensive of their security. Reporters with their cameras and notebooks get a first-hand view of confrontations but are also often manipulated and misled. It’s a knowledge curve that leaves the willing-to-learn wiser and the less-willing-to-learn struggling to correctly interpret the historic events they are privileged to have a ringside view of. Shyam Bhatia, from all accounts, or at least from his account in Bullets and Bylines: From the Frontlines of Kabul, Delhi, Damascus and Beyond, chose the former option.

Any reportage is compelling by the nature of its genre  precise, racy and anecdotal, and with a healthy dose of hair-raising developments. The sound of bullets, the cries of people in distress, the rush of security personnel…these are the staple diet in conflict writing. A good reportage, however, needs to transcend beyond the obvious, especially when it shapes into a book. It must lead to a greater understanding of the issues at hand, hold a mirror to the conflicts (or wars) and suggest (without doing so) the way forward as opposed to the way left behind. While the men and material engaged in the confrontations and their produce are important, what separates good conflict writing from the ordinary is the proficiency of the author in getting the larger picture. In other words, the author of conflict reportage (take Ernest Hemingway, for example) is both a chronicler of events and a designer of a worldview that he (or she) presents to the readers.

Nobody is rushing to equate Bhatia with Hemingway, and so the former can be saved the blushes. Nevertheless, Bullets and Bylines has an enduring quality that places it among the better written conflict stories to emerge in recent years. The canvas is large, as the strap-line on his book cover informs. There is a recurring theme despite the disparateness in events in Delhi (Indira Gandhi’s assassination and soon after), Kabul (the Soviet entry into Afghanistan and the rise of brutal Taliban on the back of the West-backed-and-funded mujahideen), West Asia (Arab-Israel and Iran-Israel violent confrontations): Humanity prevails even if feebly in the din of cut-throat wars for victory; wars that were determined on whose hate was mightier.

Bhatia has been a beneficiary of the good deeds that were sprung on him at critical times and from the most unexpected quarters while doing his duty in West Asia, and which ensured he lived to see another day and give us this book. He also benefitted from pure luck and, perhaps, a sort of divine intervention when, for instance, he was spared by a bunch of Afghan fighters who had waylaid a bus from Kabul on its way to Kandahar in February 1980, selected passengers who held the red-coloured identity card issued by the then Moscow-backed regime in Kabul, and shot them in cold blood. Bhatia’s British passport was not good enough to stop the mujahideen group  taking him captive and holding them in various isolated locales for days together before allowing him to escape. Given the Afghan fighters’ hatred for the West, the author could have been executed as well. His account chills the bone: “The thirty-five men and women lying dead before me were each shot with a single bullet that made a muffled ‘pop’ as it pa
ssed through their heads. Only minutes earlier we were fellow passengers on the Kabul to Kandahar bus that was stopped near Ghazni by anti-Soviet mujahideen.” He says, “And each dead body seemed to drive temperatures even further below the minus 19 degrees that matched the cold of the Arctic Circle. It was the type of cold that I have never forgotten.”

Then there are narrations of Bhatia’s narrow escape from the hands of Egypt’s then infamous secret service, the Mukhabarat, during Anwar Sadat’s rule. Apparently, the agency was not just keeping a close watch over his journalistic activities in the country but also leaving behind rather crass messages for him to keep off: One day he found the carpet in his apartment in Cairo slashed and his dog cowering under the bed. He later deduced that the Mukhabarat had paid his room a visit, traumatised the dog and damaged the carpet in a bid to frighten him.

It is unbelievable that, in the midst of the disturbing environment he was neck-deep into, Bhatia’s account could have some funny and even deeply personal and emotive moments. He recounts an instance when he had gone to meet the legendary Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — one of the many he had met after establishing a close rapport and after enticing Arafat with pots of honey (for which the Palestinian had a weak spot). While he was waiting for the meeting, Arafat’s young wife Suha rushed out to meet Bhatia and breezily asked him if he would take care of their child as she had to rush for a meeting and would be back in a couple of hours or so! The nonplussed author wondered what he was supposed to do in the baby-sitting process. “You have children, you know what to do. Just take her in the pram and go for a walk by the sea.”

Arafat was the not the only leader Bhatia had build a rapport that went beyond official duties; Benazir Bhutto was another, and so was her brother and rival Murtaza Bhutto. Of course, he had no such luck with Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran (with whom he managed an audience through a mysterious character who later on simply disappeared), or AH Rafsanjani (then Iran’s Parliament Speaker whom he got to interview through the same mysterious Iranian’s help) or the globally discredited Pakistan nuclear scientist AQ Khan. The latter in fits of anger would refer to the author as a “Hindu bastard” who could not “write anything objective about Pakistan”. Bhatia’s British passport made matters worse, since Khan had as much spite for the West as he nurtured for Indians. In an interview to a German publication which Bhatia quotes, Khan had said, “I want to question the bloody holier-than-thou attitudes of the Americans and the British. Are these bastards God-appointed guardians of the world to stockpile hundreds of thousands 
of nuclear warheads and have they God-given authority to carry out explosions every month?”

The author is scathing in his attack of Saddam Hussein. More than a decade has gone by since the West-led forces toppled the Iraqi dictator and captured him; and a decade since he was executed, but Bhatia still nurses a strong feeling of dislike for the leader. It would be difficult for many people in India to share this sentiment, overwhelmingly prevalent among Western nations and the media by and large there. Yet, Bhatia’s account of the atrocities Saddam Hussein had inflicted on sections of his people (and the use of nerve gas etc) does lead one to believe that the man was indeed dangerous and deserved to be removed. The question is: Did he deserve death when leaders accused of equal if not more heinous crimes live on — with some having enjoyed the West’s patronage?

Finally, perhaps what makes the day of an Indian-origin journalist working in the battlefields across the world is not so a ‘scoop’ but the sudden burst of Indianness where it’s least expected. Let’s end with this anecdote from Bhatia, when he speaks of a situation in Baghdad in the immediate aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s fall. A bunch of agitated Iraqis had surrounded a vehicle with a US soldier inside who was at a loss to understand what those people were shouting at. Bhatia happened to be near and found that the people were demanding to know when the water tanker would be arriving. Soon, the author told the crowd in broken Arabic that he was of Indian origin. One from the crowd asked about Amitabh Bachchan. In the author’s words: “To my utter, open-mouthed astonishment, another older man with a red bandana tied around his greying head danced a little jig… he even started singing the song, “Yeh mera prem patra pad kar...” Here, love saved the day.

arabstoday
arabstoday

Name *

E-mail *

Comment Title*

Comment *

: Characters Left

Mandatory *

Terms of use

Publishing Terms: Not to offend the author, or to persons or sanctities or attacking religions or divine self. And stay away from sectarian and racial incitement and insults.

I agree with the Terms of Use

Security Code*

bullets and bylines has an enduring quality bullets and bylines has an enduring quality

 



Name *

E-mail *

Comment Title*

Comment *

: Characters Left

Mandatory *

Terms of use

Publishing Terms: Not to offend the author, or to persons or sanctities or attacking religions or divine self. And stay away from sectarian and racial incitement and insults.

I agree with the Terms of Use

Security Code*

bullets and bylines has an enduring quality bullets and bylines has an enduring quality

 



Arab Today, arab today Modern colorful bedroom renovation

GMT 11:23 2017 Thursday ,21 December

Modern colorful bedroom renovation

GMT 23:00 2016 Tuesday ,16 August

7 civilians dead as Yemen rocket hits Saudi

GMT 02:13 2017 Sunday ,01 October

April21st-May21st

GMT 05:40 2017 Thursday ,07 September

LAF Commander thanks citizens for their love and trust

GMT 18:20 2016 Thursday ,10 November

HRH The Prince of Wales visits Isa Cultural Centre

GMT 09:50 2017 Sunday ,10 December

China's consumer price inflation slows in November

GMT 05:43 2017 Sunday ,22 January

Etihad Airways to increase Maldives frequency

GMT 11:11 2017 Friday ,17 March

Baby karts launched

GMT 17:34 2016 Thursday ,22 September

Canada schools evacuated over ‘bogus’ bomb threats
Arab Today, arab today
 
 Arab Today Facebook,arab today facebook  Arab Today Twitter,arab today twitter Arab Today Rss,arab today rss  Arab Today Youtube,arab today youtube  Arab Today Youtube,arab today youtube

Maintained and developed by Arabs Today Group SAL.
All rights reserved to Arab Today Media Group 2021 ©

Maintained and developed by Arabs Today Group SAL.
All rights reserved to Arab Today Media Group 2021 ©

arabstoday arabstoday arabstoday arabstoday
arabstoday arabstoday arabstoday
arabstoday
بناية النخيل - رأس النبع _ خلف السفارة الفرنسية _بيروت - لبنان
arabstoday, Arabstoday, Arabstoday