Saturday, March 14, 2009

The soccer War- Ryszard Kapuscinski

"May be he will make it" , one of the soldiers ventured.
"No way" , the orderly replied, holding a bottle of Glucose.
There was a gloomy silence.
"Doesn't anybody know him?" one of the soldier asked eventually.
The wounded man's heart was working at maximum effort; we felt its feverish thumping.
"No body". Another soldier answered.
A truck was climbing the road, its motor was complaining. Four soldiers were digging a hole down the woods.
"Is he ours or theirs?" a soldier sitting by the stretcher asked.
"Nobody knows' said the orderly after a moments quiet.
"He is his mother's" a soldier standing nearby said.
"He's God's now" added another after a pause.
"Life is so strong" a soldier leaning on his rifle said in astonishment. "It's still there, still there"
Everybody was absorbed, silent, concentrating on the sight of the wounded man. He was drawing breath more slowly now, and his head tilted back. In the end-it was a while yet- somebody said: "He's gone, All he was is gone".
They stayed there for some time..when they saw nothing else would happen, they began walking away...

We drove on...
..and our response to the news from all over the world is no different. We see, read the conflicts all over the world with the same indifference as if these are happening in a separate planet. What is also important to know is that there is life and truth, beyond what is seen on the television or read in the news papers. There are stories of suffering ( not glorified by the cameraman for the world), the sacrifices , the pain, the loss of beloved, the struggle , the exploitation ...carried with them for generations.

Ryszard Kapuscinski , renown journalist and writer from Poland, spend large part of his life in the countries in turmoil, constantly changing guard, across Africa, Asia and Latin America telling the world about the happening in those part of the globe. As per the credits given in the book, he has witnessed ( being there ) , 27 coups of power and was caught and sentenced to death at least four times, during his illustrated career as a journalist.

In this book, published in 1979, he recollects some of those moments with his clear insight and the compassion for the victims and the victors. This is a collection of reportage, journals , his notes and personal entries with no specific order or chronology. From Ghana , Congo, Algeria , Sudan , Nigeria in Africa to the famous 72 hours "Soccer war" between El Salvsador and Honduras, he gives us the sort of non-journalistic view of the conflicts with its visible truth and the the background.

"Then Kwame Nkrumah spoke about freedom. Ghana must be independent, and independence is something that has to be fought for. But there are three roads. The road of revolution. This, the speaker rejected. The road of closed-door pacts. This, too, the speaker rejected. And then there is the fight for freedom by peaceful means. The battle cry of that struggle was proclaimed then, right here in west end square."
The story of every dictator is the same. It did start with a very good intention of uplifting the people of his country . Most of them are highly educated and wanted to make a change in their country. However, they all end up at the wrong side trying to control their destiny by the use of force. They are all alone, and are under constant fear of loosing their crown to another. The distrust begin here. This turns to imprisonment and torture of everyone he suspects. The energy and focus is on retaining the "chair" than to deliver to its people.
He also has his insight to the problems of these countries. Most of them has suffered the colonial rule for long periods. They all were subjected to humiliation, torture and exploitation of manpower and natural resources by the ruled "whites", there in began their hate to people with white skin. At many places, he has witnessed the white men being the target of the anger of the public. He himself was subjected to it many times, and he recall them as the anger of the generations who suffered at the hands of colonialists are pouring out, despite being the fact that his country ( Poland) itself was one who suffered the most in the first half of the 20th century.

"The awakened Africa needs great names. As symbols, as cement, as compensation. For centuries th history of the continent has been anonymous. In the course of 300 years, traders shipped millions of slaves out of here. Who can name even one of the victims ? Foe centuries they fought the white invasions. Who can name one of the warriors ? Whose name recall the suffering of the black generations, whose name speak of the bravery of exterminated tribes ? Asia had confucius and Budha, Europe Shakespeare and Nepolean. No names that the world know emerges from the African past. Mere: no name that Africa itself would know."

The conflict is not only at the political , military or social level. There are huge issue of identity crisis in these worlds. While they wanted to embrace the western or developed world in their living , there is another constant thirst to retain their national and regional identities. "When Nkrumah travels to Europe, he demonstratively puts his African costume on. When Lumumba travels to an African village, he demonstratively puts on European dress."

Most of the articles here are written during the 50s and 60s of last century. There are no self proclaiming statements, there are no finger pointing nor any judgemental sentences. This has come out as one of the very absorbing and thought provoking book. Even the silly matters which can evoke laughter in the reader ( especially the child- support bill of Tanganyika ), it has the underlying pain of a population glaring at you.

The Tanganyika Government had a parliamentary debate on Child-support for illegitimate children. One of the study turned out that more than half of the women in that country ( from the sampling) had from one to six illegitimate children and most of them do not receive any support from the father of the children. Hence, the government was proposing a child-support bill. The debate supposed to be "the stormiest debate in the history of Independent Tanganyika's Legislative Chamber". The outcome of this was nearly 95 per cent came out against the government. What was interesting was the debate itself, which was covered in detail, and has some interesting takes. One such was by the delegate Mtaki, who quote none other than... "experts in this field, such as Karl Marx, teach us that prostitution is capitalism".

His personal notes also carry the glimpses of a good writer. Writing about the old Indian in the Mexican desert who told him "Son, I am the river and I cant cross myself".. or about the inner struggle of Mario Terana, who shot and killed Che Guevara. and lived next couple of days in fear and restlessness before shooting himself were all carry those qualities.

An outstanding book, sadly even after 30 years of publishing , nearly 50 years of these incidents, the world hasn't changed a bit.
The Soccer War
Ryszard Kapuscinski ( translated by William Brand )
Vintage international
234 Pages
Rs 330/-
Links : Guardian Obituary , NY Times

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