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Monday, June 05, 2006

Strictly off the record

The book is a journalist’s account of close encounters with world leaders and personalities.

M V Kamath — Journalist at Large; Compiled by Kalindi

As a globe-trotting journalist for four decades M V Kamath had the unique opportunity to cover some of the momentous events that moulded history. These were exciting times which produced exciting men. His contacts ranged from presidents and prime ministers to Nobel laureates and artistes.

A Journalist at Large recounts his close encounters with the high and the mighty as well as the commoner. The anecdotes are engaging from cover to cover. The short pieces, 96 in all, throw light on the little known facets of famous personalities— an interesting mix of the serious and the banal. There is pathos, there is humour.

Kamath found out early that Nehru was not keen on talking to Indian journalists. He was more at home with western correspondents. He recalls a very strange experience with Mrs Gandhi. As Information and Broadcasting minister when she visited Paris she happened to accept Kamath's invitation for dinner at his apartment. The Kamaths and Mrs Gandhi merrily chatted from 9 pm to 2.30 am on everything under the son including how her husband had proposed to her on the steps of a famous cathedral in Paris. A few weeks later when she visited Paris as the Prime Minister she wouldn't even recognise him!

The statesmen interviewed by him included Willy Brandt, Adenaeur, Martin Luther King, Patris Lumumba— the Congolese leader bumped off by the CIA, Dag Hammarskjold and Mario Soares. Kamath vividly narrates how Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchev's answer to his question at the Vienna news conference made headlines world over.

The author who watched the Nixon-Kissinger years from close quarters found the duo virulently hostile to India. During the visit of Mrs Gandhi to Washington during the Bangladesh crisis, Nixon had kept her waiting for 40 minutes to snub her. According to Kamath “Kissinger is a third rate diplomat, his smartness overvalued.”

The man who called Indians ‘bastards’ never liked to be questioned or contradicted.

He had clashes with several eminent men including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, B R Ambedkar and V K Krishna Menon. But he is all praise for Menon's eight-hour passionate address at the UN in 1957 defending India's case on Kashmir.

'The last supper' poignantly narrates how the famous playback singer Mukesh attended a dinner at Kamath's home in Washington singing 'Kabhi kabhi mere dil me..' and how he was shattered on hearing the news of the maestro's death next day.

Some of the pieces throw light on the author's difficult but professionally rewarding days in the Free Press Journal. He also proudly recalls the Rs 3.50 he had received as the first remuneration for an article. The shadow of legendary editor of FPJ Sadanand with his volatile temper is all pervasive. The man from Udupi who has made it big owes a lot to Sadanand.

Vignettes from his childhood add to the charm of the collection.On the whole it is an endearing volume.

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