THIS book belongs to the period when there was no TV; there was only the print media. Newspapers competed furiously for exclusive interviews with the more prominent of the politicians and leaders in the professional fields. Interviewing people in power and office, especially in extremely limited time and getting a worthwhile copy from it, was by no means as simple as it may sound. Both the interviewer and the person interviewed have their problems?some tend to be taciturn to the interview'sdespair; others can be so garrulous and long-winded that it becomes impossible for the interviewer to switch over to the next question; still others answer a question by a counter question, as Morarji Desai was famous for doing.
The author Bhanumathy, journalist, former correspondent of All India Radio and columnist, however had the knack of tackling the most difficult of her subjects by asking piercing questions and gently steering him/her to the point. This book of hers is a compilation of select interviews of man and women who have left their imprint on history and whose contents are enriched by erudition and eloquence of the individuals interviewed. There are vignettes from the past of exceptional people who represented a epic era. Though a number of personalities have been interviewed, like Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, Carlos P. Romulo of the Philippines, Olaf Palme of Sweden, Mario Soares of Portugal, Gunnar Myrdal of Sweden, John K. Galbraith of USA, and many others, this reviewer is quoting only a few of the stalwarts to give an idea of what their role was in the world arena.
It seems the author held a soft spot for late Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru who ?I most admired, idolised and stood in awe of,? and who after his visit to China in 1954 returned impressed by its progress but did not want India to blindly follow its example. Nehru had added, ?I have the strongest objection to India being made a rootless pale shadow of some other country (China). For my part, I believe in parliamentary democracy and in individual freedom. But I also believe that it is essential to have rapid economic growth. We have to combine the two.?
As a radio correspondent the author interviewed late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1964 when she was the Minister for Information and Broadcasting. She asked her about her plans in the said ministry. Smt Gandhi told her, ?News must be up to date; not mere propaganda. Television also should have a wider reach.? Regarding the freedom of press, Smt Gandhi had said, ?I am for freedom of the individual, but irresponsible journalism is not to be encouraged.?
The author quotes Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the former King of Bhutan, who abdicated his throne in favour of his son and said, ?Sooner or later changes will come and a well-planned preparedness is needed?; ?Che? Guevara, the legendary revolutionary of Argentina who said, ?We, in the underdeveloped world, have to free ourselves from the imperialist yoke?; Dalai Lama of Tibet who after annexation of his kingdom by the Chinese and now living in India for the past 50 years said, ?My people are non-violent and cannot fight a trained army. Non-violent resistance had no effect;?
Though not all, but quite a few of the interviews with leaders and icons in various fields are erudite and worth reading as they bristle with eloquence of the individuals interviewed while displaying the author'sskill in drawing them out of their shell.
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110016.)