An intrepid Indian journalist recalls covering some of the nastiest stories on earth, involving civil war, casual murder, catastrophic weather, and profound human misery.
Former CNN New Delhi bureau chief Pratap is a wonderful reporter with all senses alert to the most significant details of the scenes she describes. We hear, feel, smell, taste, and see the disturbing stories that were also her specialty at periodicals from India Today to Time. The longest portion here deals with the bitter conflicts in Sri Lanka, the “island of blood” where Pratap battled the elements, insects, and frighteningly dangerous young men brandishing weapons to bring her horror stories to page and screen. She gained privileged access to the opposition forces and their charismatic but ruthless chief, Pirabhakaran, who granted her numerous interviews. Pratap strongly denies any intimate relationship between them, though she expresses a kind of admiration for the strength of Pirabhakaran’s will. Turning to Afghanistan, she relates the rise of the Taliban, once again displaying her journalistic chops in sentences like this one describing a corpse in the street: “Gradually, the dead soldier crumbled into the dust of his doomed land.” She chronicles the Hindus’ destruction in 1992 of the abandoned Muslim mosque, Babri Masjid, and the ensuing savage reprisals. She portrays the horrific 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, describing in bitter detail what wind and tide and time can do to the fragile human frame. She ends with wrenching accounts of suffering children she has seen, followed by a brief epilogue about the psychological effects this wretchedness has wrought upon her. For contrast, the author occasionally intercuts scenes from her comfortable life at home. Regrettably, clichés and platitudes frequently muffle the impact of Pratap’s sharp reporting, and she’s all too willing to quote others about how talented and fearless she is.
Too bad, since these extraordinary tales don’t require such hype.