|15th September 2003
Most of us in India know Alex Perry as the Indian correspondent of Time magazine who got into a royal mess writing about Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee's ill-health. Alex Perry was new to the beat it seems, and he fell for the anti-Vajpayee-pro-Advani faction's machinations. He was made to believe that Vajpayee was in such ill-health, and the party was considering replacing him, and backroom maneuvering was going on in that direction. The moment his report Asleep at the wheel' appeared, the Indian government and the BJP pounced on him with a vehemence that proved was Vajpayee was hardly unwell enough to handle a reporter who wrote something that could be used against him. And the party pretended to rally behind the Indian PM, and poor Alex Perry went through hell.
Many of us who watched that drama found it hilarious. The article in TIME, the anger of Vajpayee, the way the government tried to hound a media man who did not do his homework.
I have been watching his pieces in TIME ever since. Well, Alex Perry has an Achilles heel all right, my friends. The man tends to exaggerate. Maybe he means well. Maybe he is someone prone to hyperbole. Alex Perry consistently makes such sweeping generalizations in his reportage that may go unnoticed abroad, but looks too flat, too black and white for a reader in India.
Case in point: His story on 'Umar', a terrorist Alex Perry met in Mumbai, connected to SIMI. He also met Ahmed Javed for the story, and described him as the progressive face of the Indian Muslim and Umar as the dark side. Now, a reporter getting to meet a terrorist clandestinely is always interesting copy. Same goes for Umar. Umar made the regular noises, claimed responsibility for the recent bomb blasts, spoke angry words India, its government and Hindus.
The story was displayed prominently in TIME. But Umar was a bore. I am not saying Alex Perry did not meet the terrorist. But he might as well have not met him. Why does a reporter want to meet a terrorist? You do not meet Osama Bin Laden to hear the same stuff that you hear everyday. TIME, I am sure, has verified the existence of Umar. My point is, it does not matter. Perry may as well not have met the dreaded terrorist. There is nothing the said terrorist told Perry that anyone couldn't have made up. Heck, I could have made up all that sitting in my office. Everyone knows the terrorists hate India, its Hindus, its Muslims, that they are seething, whatever. Sorry, the story did not have a peg. You can argue that reality is often boring and unexciting. Yes, but a story has to say something. Every rational person could tell you the reasons for the anger of Muslim terrorists. You do not need an Alex Perry bringing you an exclusive on an unnamed dreaded terrorist. The story was a royal bore. Drab. Jaded. Pathetic. Javed Ahmed saved the story, thankfully.
It does not end there. I picked up a recent Time that covered the August 25 bomb blasts in Bombay. And what do I see? Perry and his sweeping statements, again. The story starts off saying how easily Bombay bounced back, how after twenty-four hours, the newspapers hardly mentioned the blast, how the next day people were back the Gateway.
Here is what actually happened, 24 hours from then. Newspapers went mad. Every headline was discussing the blasts. Television did not have anything on other than the blasts. No, Mr. Perry probably gets his own special supply of newspapers. The hawkers and tourists were back at the Gateway of India, but after 48 hours. The city of Mumbai is pretty good at bouncing back, but this time it did not do it in its normal style. People were shocked, every taxi driver was discussing the blasts, and the Gateway bloodstains were being washed away by cleaners. Perry seems to think it was a big deal to wash away the bloodstains - as if the act was symbolic of washing away its mental scares. As we say in Mumbai, boss, I do not know what you guys do in the West after someone is killed - preserve the bloodstains for the future?
Most infuriating of all is the way Alex Perry brings up his own cute little terrorist in this story too. Umar told us this, Umar threatened that. Low quality journalism in an interview with a faceless terrorist is one thing, being reminded repeatedly of that ridiculous story again and again is another.
I beg of you. Mr. Perry, please get out on the street and talk to people. And please don't mention Umar again.