Friday, June 18, 2010

From ‘Foreign Correspondent. Fifty Years of Reporting South Asia. Revised Edition’. Edited by John Elliott, Bernard Imhasly, Simon Denyer. # 1

Robert Stimson – Goodbye to India. BBC 10 March 1949

Quite often……….one had to reexamine one’s values. I remember a story told quite casually by a distinguished Indian priest who was my fellow passenger on a long railway journey.
One day, shortly after his return to India from Oxford, the priest was in his bungalow writing his first sermon, when he looked up to find a yogi squatting cross-legged on the floor and chuckling over some very delicious private joke. The priest had never seen the yogi before and asked him what he wanted. The yogi said he’d come on a friendly mission, to warn the priest that he mustn’t be surprised if, as an evangelist, he encountered a certain mental resistance from the Hindus. And with that the yogi, still sitting cross-legged, rose gently from the floor and went on rising until his head was touching the ceiling. ‘Do you see what I mean?’ he said. Then he slowly descended and chuckling once more, walked out of the priest’s room.

……..As a rule the Indians were most considerate, partly because they value formal good manners and partly because Mr Gandhi, in his own dealings with individual Englishmen, set a good example. When political differences were at their sharpest, Mr Gandhi – Britain’s best policeman in India, as he called himself – made a point of addressing the Viceroy as ‘dear friend’.
Very few people met Mr Gandhi without feeling the pull of his disarming personality. He was immensely popular with journalists of all nationalities, because he was so accessible. He didn’t always say things that were easy to agree with, but it was a pleasure to interview him because he had an instinctive understanding of news and was a master of simple colourful English.

One doesn’t know what shape the Indian story will take in future, but its difficult to think of any change that will destroy for one passerby, the richness of certain memories: the beauty of the nights, with distant strings and drums sliding music across a valley; the Madrassi who walked more than ten or twelve miles a day for many months to talk to a foreigner about the Gita; the exquisite decorum of a Rajput aristocrat; a villager coming forward on a hot morning and shyly offering a newly cut melon; the perfection of rice properly cooked; a young peasant couple walking to the fair and carrying their new shoes so that they’d look shiny when they arrived; a Muslim woman riding a bicycle in a burqua – a thousand things, but especially the quality of an Indian friendship, which once given is given unconditionally and for life.

Gerald Priestland – The Delhi Scene. BBC 1954-58
Delhi is three inhabited cities and three or four more in ruins on the plains round about. No other capital in modern Asia, with the possible exception of Peking (which I do not know) offers such a picture book of its own history.

Gerald Priestland – With Nehru Around India. BBC 1954-58

One of my first discoveries about India was that in spite of being an obviously well-to-do imperialist entirely surrounded by poverty, one was perfectly safe in these enormous crowds. Nobody stabbed you or robbed you or even jostled you – indeed, if you started giving them orders they instinctively obeyed………………In one corner of Andhra state, eight years after Independence, I came across an English collector with his English police sergeant running their district as if the viceroy were still in Delhi

…….for India is not China and never will be; Indians are not Chinese, to be turned in their tracks like vast regimented armies…………if anyone was allergic to collectivism it was the Hindus…………There were times when I found myself writing: ‘This country is doomed; if it does not starve to death or perish of the plague it will surely explode in bloody revolution.’ But India has done none of these things.

Contrary to the belief of many Westerners, India is not a profoundly spiritual country but a profoundly materialistic one. The object of most religious practice is to ensure material success.

…….The really extraordinary thing about Hinduism is that, far from producing a grim and depressed society, it produces one that is full of music and dancing, brilliant colours, feasts and festivals. When, later, I was posted to the Middle East I was struck by the drabness and dourness of the Arabs compared with the Indians, and by how much more the Arabs complained in spite of their relative prosperity. I would not wish to be a Hindu myself – anyway, they are born, not made – but Hinduism has served India well.

…….Nehru……….Like the best of the British who educated him, and like his father Motilal before him, he had a profound sense of public service and of duty to his people. I say ‘his’ people because it seems to me that in a House-of-Windsor way Jawaharlal Nehru developed a sense of royalty that was really the essence of his powers. It was as if he had been born and brought up to the job. He knew that he had to do it, that only he could do it, so he did it with modesty yet authority and never failed to be fascinated by the way it worked with the crowds.

Gerald Priestland – Goa Showdown. BBC 1954-58

……….the last of the colonies left in India, for the Portugese had been there since 1524 and saw no reason to give up just because newcomers like the British and the French were leaving. This was awkward for the Indians. Having persuaded the British to quit by (more or less) non-violent means, and being in the business of deploring the use of armed force by everyone else, it would have looked bad for India to turn her army loose on a few thousand Portugese……….And if the Portugese really were the monsters they were supposed to be, surely the Goanese……..would liberate themselves, non-violently, of course.

There were at least two flaws in this argument. The first was that the Goanese rather enjoyed having a foot in both worlds – the Indian and the European – and were in no hurry to see their pleasant Catholic homeland liberated by pagans. The second was that the Portugese were not cricket-playing Englishmen but nasty fascist policemen, whose motto, constantly repeated, was, ‘Authority must be respected, orders must be obeyed.’

Arthur Bonner – India’s Masses The Public that Can’t Be Reached. The Atlantic October 1959
Two years ago a research team………surveyed 150 villages in…..four Hindi-speaking states of north-central India. They found that six out of sixty-seven persons selected at random were entirely ignorant of the fact that the British no longer ruled India.
……..the researchers found that fifty-four out of 314 respondents did not know the name of their own country. Some, however, were aware of the word Bharat (India)…….when…..asked what Bharat signified, they said they did not know.

……The rules for handling correspondence at the district level in Uttar Pradesh have changed little since they were drawn up in 1880. A letter has to pass through forty-one distinct steps and be entered in dozens of registers before it is answered. Throughout India, the government moves so slowly………

Arthur Bonner – Tragedy of Tibet. The Saturday Evening Post 9 September 1961
After the Dalai Lama escaped to India. The Chinese, with their superior weapons,…….trained soldiers, soon took over the major towns and most populated valleys. First they smashed the revolt and then they began to destroy traditional Tibetan culture.
Thousands of monks were swept into concentration camps, and a systematic program of degradation began.

The worst Tibetan criminals in the Chinese view are the so-called ‘upper strata’…….After perfunctory trials they are routinely sentenced to twenty years in prison……..slave labour from which few survive. A Tibetan who escaped from a slave gang working on a mountain road told me his Chinese guards made a practice of setting off dynamite blasts without warning. If a man was injured but could still work, he was put back to work. But if a bone was broken and he was helpless the guards would simply toss him down the Cliffside. Prisoners who collapsed or died from hunger or exposure were left where they lay. When about a dozen of them had accumulated a pit was dug and all were thrown in – the partially alive as well as the dead.

Because of last year’s formation of ill-planned communes, which left large areas unsown, along with the influx of hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians, and perhaps the food crisis in China itself, Tibet is now experiencing its first famine in history.

‘The Chinese are an ancient nation,’ the Indian, who spent some years in Peking, continued. ‘They think in terms of centuries. They take infinite pains and have infinite patience. In Tibet they are preparing actions elsewhere, perhaps in Laos or Vietnam. They are sending their technicians to the Middle East, Africa and Cuba. They will plan and wait – and strike when they find a weak point.’

James Cameron – The Death of Nehru. The Daily Herald 28 May 1964
Seventeen years ago he undertook the incredible task of trying to make a viable democracy out of the most fantastic pattern of ex-Imperial wastelands, kingdoms, princely states and minor satrapies the world ever knew.
……..He was melancholy, irascible, intolerant of lesser men. He seemed to the very end incapable of delegating responsibility…….nothing grew in the shadow of that tremendous tree………He seemed to me then, and for years to come, to be the only man in the business who clung to the more reasonable values of politics, perversely pursuing the principle of humanity without appearing to mock it.

Peter R. Kann – Dacca Diary. The Wall Street Journal 14 December 1971

THURSDAY, DEC 9…………..We drive around the city and see few soldiers, but we see a West Pakistani policeman beating a Bengali with a stick, Consistent to the end.

FRIDAY, DEC 10………..Bengalis in Dacca all seem convinced that the bombs that landed on civilian areas the past two nights, including the one that hit the orphanage, were dropped by Pakistani planes so civilian casualties could be blamed on India………Evidence still circumstantial……..But one diplomat says ‘Anyone who has been here since March wouldn’t blink an eye at the Paks doing something like that.’

Peter R. Kann – Dacca Diary II. The Wall Street Journal 21 December 1971

THURSDAY, DEC 16…………..The city is full of panicky men with guns: excited young Muktis, confused Indians and frightened Pak troops who are trying to surrender but who don’t know how or where to do so.
………Its 5 p.m., and reporters rush to golf course for formal surrender ceremony. Surrender papers are signed in quadruplicate. Takes a while because Gen. Niazi reads the documents as if for the first time. Scene after signing is complete chaos. Mob trying to carry Indian generals on shoulders, Pak generals being jostled by crowds…..
……At 5.55 p.m. two Soviet correspondents arrive. ‘We are Tass and Pravda. We have just arrived. What is the news?’ they say.

Matt Miller – Indian Phones Stuck in Primitive State. The Asian Wall Street Journal 17 September 1986

Poor telecommunications service is often cited by foreign businessmen as a major impediment to operating in India……..its often easier to place an international call than a domestic one…….Last month, former home minister P.C.Sethi, upset at being unable to place a call from New Delhi to Bombay, descended on a telephone exchange in the middle of the night, packing a revolver and accompanied by two armed bodyguards. Heated words, pushing and shoving followed. The next day, telephone operators…..retaliated with a two-day strike. Others, however, applauded Mr. Sethi. ‘I’ve received fifty telegrams and 100 to 125 letters,’ he said. ‘All of them support me.’

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