Ex-PTI scribe who witnessed freedom struggle, 3 wars turns 100

In his long career as a reporter, Walter Alfred has seen many things, including the launch of the Quit India movement, wars and the inside of a Pakistani jail.

Alfred, who had a long innings with the Press Trust of India (PTI) as a journalist, turns 100 on September 21.

He has covered many wars India has fought, including the 1962 war with China and the 1965 war with Pakistan.

Reminiscing about his reporting days at his house in Mira Road township on the outskirts of Mumbai, he said, "For me, the 1962 war with China was a painful memory as it deeply affected the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

"The shock of China defying him was severe for him," he said.

Now, as Indian troops are once again locked in a stand-off with China, Alfred said back then, there was "no dearth of official information" about the border developments.

There was a clear communication from the government and a detailed statement was made in Parliament, he said.

"I covered several events with Nehru, including his visit to the Ahmednagar fort as prime minister. He excitedly showed me his cell and the places he was allowed to visit as a prisoner during the independence movement," he said.

The British had chosen the Ahmednagar fort to lodge Nehru and other national leaders to prevent intensification of the Quit India movement.

Among the more dramatic events of Alfred's life was his incarceration in a jail in Pakistan during the 1965 Indo- Pak war.

Alfred said this was during his second stint as the PTI correspondent in Pakistan, his earlier tenure having lasted three years.

"The proclamation of war invited charges of espionage against me. I was kept in solitary confinement in Rawalpindi jail for almost a fortnight and got hardly any information about the charges levelled against me," he said.

He said negotiations between the two countries and also pressure from the United Nations led to his release and he returned to India as part of an exchange of journalists of the two countries.

"I was so traumatised due to my incarceration that my office offered me some days' leave for recovery, after which I was posted as PTI's South Asia correspondent in Malaysia," he said.

Alfred, who grew up in Mangalore, said he joined Reuters in Mumbai in 1938 as a technical hand, and became a journalist soon after PTI was formed.

Alfred says he was at Gowalia Tank in Mumbai on August 8, 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement.

"In 1949, I was the chief of bureau in Mumbai and led a team of over 20 reporters, including those covering business and sports," he said.

Alfred, who retired from PTI in 1978, took up teaching at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and a few other journalism institutes.

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