Monday, 14 November 2011

SCRIBE'S JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY



SCRIBE'S JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY

Memoirs are often fascinating to read, more so if they give us facts that have been unknown. Veteran journalist S Nihal Singh, who was once the editor of The Statesman and later edited Khaleej Times, had the opportunity to witness many such facts that set the tone and tenor of history that was in the making, in India, South East Asia and the other parts of the world. Quite naturally, his recent book, Ink in My Veins : A Life in Journalism, raises the expectation of all those who have interest in the events that shaped the bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations between nation States, and politics and governance.

Among the several historical events that the author could witness from a fairly close quarter was the Vietnam War. Singh describes the chaotic days in Vietnam and one gets a basic idea of the troubled times in that region. However, these descriptions could have been more vivid and insightful. Singh’s take on the South East Asian politics in the 1960s is quite interesting. The way the regional politics between the then Malay, Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei played out could be instructive even now to the ‘foreign policy’ makers in India who have the task to keep those countries on India’s side, more so when there are signs of growing resentment in these countries about Communist China.

The more interesting part of the book, however, is Singh’s experiences and analyses of the 1969 split in the Congress Party. The then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s dealings with the old hats within the Congress — who had mistakenly thought that Mrs Gandhi would be a ‘dumb doll’, shows the feisty nature of the lady who took all the risks and won the battle to carve out her place in modern India’s history. “Indira disregarded the official Congress presidential choice and threw a bombshell which had its intended impact of scattering the party challengers...” Singh writes. “Coming back from Moscow as I was, I was struck by the Communist methods Indira used to win a majority. A new battery of slogans had been coined and propagated; the speeches were laced with populism... My distinct impression was that the party bosses were shell-shocked.

Equally interesting is the part where Singh narrates the turbulent days of the Emergency when the Indian press was muzzled. An arrogant Vidya Charan Shukla, who became Indira Gandhi’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting during this period, did his best to threaten and dictate journalists as to how they must carry the news. Those difficult days for the Indian press and their fight not to buckle under the government’s pressure come alive very well through Singh’s words.

But what I found jarring is the way Singh keeps jumping the timeline and offers his opinions that are out of place with an event or an issue he’s dealing with at any given part of the book. These sudden breaks in the continuity are disconcerting. I wonder what Singh would have thought of such a fragmented style of writing, if he were to edit it.

Moreover, along with his experiences as the correspondent and editor of The Statesman, Singh writes about his sexual escapades, and trivial things like buying furniture in Moscow while he was posted there. And in that sense, this informative book is annoying. However, I should have been warned when Singh began with memories about how “handsome” he looked as a child, and how his schoolmates used to call him “the Rose.” Perhaps, Singh wanted to spice up his narrative with candour. But for a serious reader, such facts are useless. Moronic, actually.