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Updated: March 6, 2013 20:26 IST

‘Together we rise’

Suneetha Balakrishnan
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Anita Pratap. Photo: Mahesh Harilal
The Hindu Anita Pratap. Photo: Mahesh Harilal

Mediaperson, writer and author Anita Pratap says women must find their voice and speak as one to empower themselves

Veteran journalist and writer Anita Pratap won acclaim for her reports from areas of conflict such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kashmir. She won several and won awards after award for excellence in reporting, including the prestigious George Polk award for TV reporting for excellence in coverage on the Taliban takeover of Kabul. She worked for over two decades with international media houses such as the TIME magazine and CNN. Anita’s historic interview of the LTTE chief Prabhakaran in 1983, the first ever one he gave to the world, made news. Her interview of Bal Thackeray during the Mumbai riots of 1993 for the TIME was a revelatory piece that initiated serious discussion worldwide.

Her dynamic, perceptive and acerbic writing, especially when talking about politics has given her a cult status, in both print and electronic media. She is the author of book the Island Of Blood, a sensitive and clear documentation of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and co-authored Unsung, an ode to ordinary Indians doing extraordinary things. She is now into making moved on to documentaries. filmmaking after she left India to live abroad.

In an e-mail interview, Anita speaks about issues close to her s Pratap spoke to the MetroPlus over email on issues close to her heart. She is in the city to receive the Anita Pratap is in town to receive the Shreeratna Award 2013 from the Kerala Kalakendram. on the International Women’s Day.

What is the state of media coverage then and now?

The media world has changed so dramatically and completely that sometimes I feel TV journalism in my time was another century in another planet. That world was different because my guiding star (and that of my generation of TV journalists) was not only being first with news, but also being accurate and being fair. Today there is a TRP-driven competition that completely distorts reality and priorities.

Print or TV, your preference?

Print any day. You get down to the meat of the story. TV is more superficial. The medium is excellent for breaking news, but for more in-depth understanding, to stir contemplation and imagination, there is nothing more magical, stirring and enduring than the written word. You feel something when you see a bomb explosion and then you forget all about the victims and the horror of it when a new and bigger calamity like a tsunami strikes. I wish print would re-discover its rightful place in people’s minds. As citizens, we are poorer if print loses authority and readership.

Memories of writing Island Of Blood

Writing it was traumatic. I am first and foremost a mother and then a daughter. I had never talked about some of the horrible things I have seen and terrifying situations I have been in because maintaining normality and enjoying life was paramount when it came to raising my son and being the daughter of retired parents who worry if the car didn’t start in the morning. When I started writing my book, all these memories came flooding back. Writing about how I felt deep down inside while I remained the calm Ms.Professional was a cathartic experience.

About the writing of Unsung

I felt our younger generation were getting too captivated by celebrities and were seeing them as their sole role models. I took nine ordinary individuals, some from very poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, who braved terrible obstacles to do amazing public service. These are the real role-models and our youngsters should derive inspiration from their lives, their courage, their determination, their love, patience, willpower, humility, and simplicity.

On awards

An award is not an end in itself. It has to be a means to an end, the end being, to use the legitimacy and credibility the award gives to do greater public service. The Shreeratna award is very special to me for three reasons – firstly, the reason for giving me this award is for an issue that is very close to my heart – empowering the disempowered. Secondly, it is an award given in Kerala, my homeland. Usually, it is the fate of most people that they are appreciated all over the world but never in their hometown. And, thirdly, the award is being given on the occasion of the International Women’s Day.

On documentary film making

I did documentary films because I felt TV journalism was shallow and superficial. Especially breaking news variety because how much can you possibly explain in 90 seconds? At the same time, the television medium is powerful. So I tried to tackle different and sometimes difficult or TV unfriendly but important subjects – like how a state like Mizoram moved from terrorism to democracy – by doing documentary films. I felt we were all ignoring, forgetting and disrespecting our ancient traditions, which are so awesome and so much a part of our heritage, our very identity.

Kerala's current miserable social scene

I often wonder when, why and how the women scene in Kerala took a turn for the worse. Kerala was and still is in many respects a model state precisely because women were empowered, took part in social issues and took charge of their lives. The true barometer of the success and progress of a state or country is the rights, safety and position women enjoy.

A message for the women of Kerala

Women of Kerala must find their voice. And they must unite as one voice. We have to support each other, irrespective of what social, financial or political background we are from. I am thoroughly dismayed at how politics interferes with every day functioning in every field every day in Kerala. Together we rise, divided we fall.

Your connect to Kerala

I have never ever lost my connection with Kerala. I started my school in St. Teresa’s Convent in Ernakulum and left Kerala in my third standard but we came for long summer holidays every year and spent Christmas with my grandparents and all my 54 first cousins. Our Kandoth clan, as we like to call ourselves, is very close knit. My husband, Arne Walther, who is coming down from Tokyo marvels how close we all are and how much fun we have together. I have to mingle with my cousins, eat tapioca and fish curry and jabber away in fluent Malayalam. In our Norwegian embassy kitchen garden in Tokyo, I have a curry leaf tree. No dish tastes good for me unless there are curry leaves. I have tasted the best cuisines from the top chefs from around the world. But the tastiest food on planet earth is our ‘nadan’ food.

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