My Date with History: A Memoir by Suman Chattopadhyay- Review

Title: My Date with History

Author: Suman Chattopadhyay

Publisher: Rupa Publications

Pages: 273

Price: Rs 395

English poet and critic Dr Matthew Arnold wrote pithily, ‘Journalism is literature in a hurry’. But a few journalists have written and immortalised their words in the hallowed sanctum sanctorum of literature. It won’t be a hyperbole if Suman Chattopadhyay is counted among them.

His autobiography written in a purple prose vindicates a seasoned journalist’s hold over a number of things and issues. It’s laced with humour as well. It’s said that a perceptive journalist is a silent and dispassionate spectator to his/her era. Poet-critic, Dom Moraes’ father, the legendary editor, Frank Moraes stated the same thing in his celebrated tome, ‘Witness to an era’.

Suman is a perspicuous journalist who hardly took a biased stand and stance in his long and chequered journalistic career. His formidable pen ensued articles of immense depth and galvanized his readers to think and act. In recent times, the image of journalism, in general, has been dented. Remember the highly uncomfortable term coined by a current Cabinet Minister who called the journalists, presstitutes.

Here comes the integrity of a senior and venerable journalist to bail his ilk out of this ignominy. Suman proves that India still has journalists who are loyal to their profession and whose professional integrity is unimpeachable. Suman vindicates a famous British journalist’s (whose name I’m forgetting) mantra for a good journalist: ‘A perceptive journalist ought to have Creative Courage and Dogged Defiance’. Suman has this in abundance and at times, rather overflowing. Here’s a passage to buttress Suman’s intrepidity as well as his courage of conviction:

“Dr Satyen Sen, then Vice-Chancellor (of Calcutta University), shamelessly vacated his official chair for Indira Gandhi’s son to sit and address a gathering of the so-called intellectuals handpicked and rehearsed by the party. Five of us stood in front of our college gate and unfurled our black flags as Sanjay’s convoy came very close. The sight created a momentary flutter among those walking in the procession and they looked at us as if we were animals of an unknown species.”

The use of the word ‘shamelessly’ in this context, shows Suman’s commitment to his noble profession. He’s scared of none. No genuflection, no prostration and no submission. But righteous aggression. This is what an attentive reader expects of a seasoned journalist who never cows down and caves in. One may say, Suman belongs to the old school of journalism.

Suman is not in the habit of beating around the bush and he doesn’t mince words. He calls a spade a spade, nay shovel. His fallout with the ABP satrap Aveek Sarkar in the last chapter shows his defiant, but a dignified sense of independence and also his courage of conviction.

From beginning to end, the memoir doesn’t show even a streak of audacity of the hugely popular journalist. This is indeed appreciable. There’s no name-calling or running anyone down.

He met LTTE Commander Velupillai Prabhakaran in his Jaffna hideout and that was a feather in his illustrious cap. To quote Dylan Thomas, ‘Many an event did I see/Standing from a little distance like an old Oak tree.’ These lines are applicable to Suman Chattopadhyay who witnessed the cavalcade of independent India’s socio-political events in his exciting sojourn as a journalist who valued his profession above everything else and never genuflected before anyone. Suman elevated journalism to the level of literature and measured his words ‘like a statistician’ (to quote Somerset Maugham from ‘Of Human Bondage’).

The profession of journalism gets a shot in the arm with this book of Suman that speaks volumes without being voluble. To a casual reader, the author may appear a bit overambitious (one gets this notion from a few episodes in his journalistic journey), but he’s not. He’s a grounded journalist who knows his onions and is also alive to his limitations as well as strengths. So far, he’s not overreached himself as to be criticised and castigated.

On the flip side, Suman ends his memoir in a rather abrupt manner and it leaves readers wondering whether he wanted to create an O’Henry effect (the great raconteur was known for his sudden but effective endings). The end could have been extended.

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