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You have to go beyond statistics, tell personal stories: Rahul Pandita

Rahul Pandita

Pandita’s latest book ‘The Lover Boy of Bahawalpur: How the Pulwama Case was Cracked’ (Juggernaut) is the result of following the case from day one

By Sukant Deepak

July 11, 2021 (IANSlife)  As soon as the Pulwama terrorist attack was executed on February 14, 2019, journalist and author, Rahul Pandita, who has been writing extensively on the region for decades -- reportage and non-fiction -- immediately realised that it was the worst terrorist attack Kashmir had ever witnessed in its three bloody decades of insurgency. 


Pandita’s latest book ‘The Lover Boy of Bahawalpur: How the Pulwama Case was Cracked’ (Juggernaut) is the result of following the case from day one.


Sometime after the attack, when he was travelling with a party of Military Intelligence, which comprised some people who were among the first of the response team to reach the spot, a young army office told him that on reaching the site, they found the bodies of four CRPF personnel dangling on a few communication towers over the hillock on the other side of the road (it is a double road). 


“It became personal from that day onwards. As a conflict journalist, you always try to put faces to various players of conflict. Listening to that story, I realised that I had to give a certain story's name to the people who fall. And they should not remain mere statistics. Post that, came the work of putting together the pieces. Of course, in those days of course, very little was known. Even the NIA (National Investigation Agency) was groping in the dark. Slowly, things started unraveling and I realised that it is a big story; which must be told."



Despite his well-placed sources in the security apparatus, Pandita, who has reported extensively from various theatres of war including Iraq and Sri Lanka and has to his credit books including ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots: A Memoir of a Lost Home in Kashmir’, ‘Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement’ and ‘The Absent State’(co-authored), says information did not come easy at all. “ The lead investigators in the case (NIA) and even the Jammu and Kashmir police were keeping their cards close to the chest, which is understandable, after all they are a professional organisation and do not share information regarding ongoing investigations with journalists. However, once the case started to crack, sleuths from both NIA and Jammu and Kashmir police began opening up. And of course the book also includes some old stories, like the entire episode of how Ghazi baba was killed by the Border Security Force (BSF). 


Several times, you have to corroborate events from multiple sources.  In insurgency operations in a place like Jammu and Kashmir, there are multiple agencies involved at any given point in time. Dots have to be connected. Sometimes, they have to be connected from outside Jammu and Kashmir too. So that is how agencies like the Delhi Police get involved, etc. But then the story also needed to be told. And I took my old sources into confidence, that revealed stuff to me."


Stressing that the end goal of any counter insurgency operations cannot be just killing terrorists, he feels that at some point in time, one also needs to to look at how to stop young Kashmiris to fall into the trap of radical Islam. “In my opinion, as a student of Kashmir, unless you don't do that, this problem will unfortunately not go away. Young Kashmiri muslims will keep on joining these terrorist organisations. New terrorist organizations will keep on being floated. The Lashkar is not going to stop sending its highly trained militants to the Kashmir valley. That is not going to stop. The Indian state has to try to reach them. Of course, in any counterinsurgency operation, eliminating militants is a part of the job."


Adding that in order to ensure that the readers are hooked to a non-fiction title like his latest one, it is important to go beyond the statistics and tell personal stories as a journalist-author, he says, “You have to go beyond faces. One of my favourite American writers, David Foster Wallace, when he used to report, would call himself a non-journalist journalist. Sometimes, you have to don that robe. One of the shortcomings in journalism is a lack of good writers, the kinds who can go beyond these statistics and what they learn typically in a journalism school-- what they have to put in the first paragraph and so on. So, as a writer, my effort is to go beyond the mundane. Go beyond these boring numbers, or what someone has already seen on television or internet."


The author feels that his ‘education’ does not come from any school or college but the place called Bastar. “It has taught me whatever little I know of people, of friendships, of life and death.”


Despite not travelling as much as he used to, Pandita’s first love still remains conflict reporting. “When you are at a place to file a report, sometimes, there are images and situations unfolding, or when you can see the overall picture of a particular reporting assignment then it also excites you as a story-teller. You may start realising in your head that this is going to be more exciting-- as a book or as a larger story."


Currently toying with a few fiction ideas that have been in his mind for long, the author, who co-wrote the film ‘Shikara’ with Vidhu Vinod Chopra, says, “That genre excites me too. There are stories I need to tell. But there are also the ones that I would rather see on the big screen. So, definitely, yes."


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