August 02, 2020
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Press Tales

Reports from an eventful era

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Press Tales
Witness To History
By Prem Bhatia
HarAnand Pages: 493; Rs 795
PREM Bhatia was the famous and forbidding (stiff upper-lip and all that) political correspondent of The States man when I joined the news desk as a junior sub-editor in '55. He was considered a sub's delight. His reports were simple, crisp, clear and headings seemed to pop out of the first three paras of his reports.

As the book shows, he had met most of the famous personalities of the era, had easy access to the Nehru household and an ability to touch the roots of a problem. However, he had only contempt for what he called tome writing, or essay journalism. This was unfortunate as it denied him the intellectual depth of contemporaries like Shevlankar, Lindsay Emmerson and Hamdi Bey. His reports, editorials, columns read alike. Yet, his pieces from places like the USSR, China and the US are eminently readable.

The most moving is the first report which describes how Nehru had sent his principal private secretary to Ajmer, where a riot had taken place, for an assessment of the situation. As home minister and deputy prime minister, Sardar Patel resented this. There was an exchange of letters in which each defended his stand but offered to quit rather than cause problems for the other. Meanwhile, Gandhiji was murdered and the two leaders decided to sink their differences for the common good.

The most amusing piece is Prem's dinner with Bhutto at a party. Bhutto liberally helped himself to the free-flowing liquor, Prem a little less so that he may not miss any news opportunity. Soon, Bhutto sat beside Prem and asked him whether he understood what India's policy on Kashmir was. Bhutto confessed he did not, for each time Kashmir was discussed, Sardar Swaran Singh would take out the map of Kashmir and explain the placement of various villages. When told of this, Sardar Swaran Singh said he seemed to have succeeded in his mission. For, he was imitating the village belle with numerous suitors. She would give each a glimpse of her thigh, but no more.

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