16.9.06

Oriana Fallaci: Hope she interviews god

Ayatollah Khomeini introduced me to Oriana Fallaci rather than it being the other way round. I had got deeply interested in the Iranian cleric when an uncle had looked at me with what appeared to be new eyes and said, “You look like someone from Khomeini’s family.”

So, I’d lay my hands on anything that had to do with the Ayatollah. On one such occasion someone handed me a cutting of an interview. I read it and re-read it and was completely mesmerised. It struck me then that someone had to have been persistent and a bit pushy to get this man to come across as he did.

It was the day I found Oriana Fallaci. There was not much access to her works then, but I would mention her as though I knew a lot about her.

For a reason I cannot fathom, I did not read her interviews later although I did read her essays.

I discovered that I loved conducting interviews. In my early days in journalism I was called the ‘slum specialist’ and the ‘men’s specialist’, for I invariably veered towards the not-so-happening areas of the city and the editors felt I brought out the best (and worst) in my male subjects.

This is a tribute to a woman of immense guts and range, and you will find a lot of material on her. Let me instead take you through the journey of how it isn’t always easy interviewing people. Unlike the West where publications give you ample time and other facilities, the same cannot be said of India and I reckon the rest of the subcontinent.

I remember finding an old copy of Esquire at the raddiwalla where there was a story on John Lennon. The journalist got six months to do it! How one would have liked such luxury of time.

To give just one example, I was once sent to another city to interview a politician. The interview was conducted at 7 am and he had his durbar waiting outside, so I had to use every little ruse possible to keep him in his place – he sat there for an hour, which apparently was a lot of time; the photographer handed me the film roll. I reached Mumbai, went straight to the photo lab to get the slides processed (not my job…), reached home, took a shower, called up the office, read out a short Intro that could be set for the colour page, transcribed the tape (which is the worst part), then pruned and polished it into a proper interview, reached office next morning after collecting the pictures (not my job, but well…), had the art department work on the look (heheh…I loved giving ‘suggestions’), sent the manuscript for processing and it was done.

I am not saying that we have great interviewers, but there is so much potential. Today, of course, there is the Net where you can dig out material, but I am still not comfortable with it. I prefer to read books and journals, if needed, but most times I like spontaneity and let the person get unraveled before me without too much background information.

For me interviews are mind games, and although I like to have questions ready, I rarely stick to the structure.

I do love Oriana for doing what she did. She risked her life and so many people in the media do. I have often been harsh on the profession and will continue to do so, but sometimes one has to grudgingly admit that it’s like capturing the world in a few words.

I'd love to see how Oriana Fallaci would interview god...

2 comments:

  1. From all accounts, she seems to have been one remarkable lady who was considered a leftist most of her life, yet was not afraid to criticize the Islamists for being intolerant and their European hosts for being weak-kneed. I wish she had lived to fight the court cases and come out a winner. The following excerpt from her writing “The Rage and the Pride” illustrates how her negative views of Islam were formed…

    “…I will never forget what happened to me at the Iranian Embassy in Rome when I asked for a visa to go to Iran, to interview Khomeini, and I went wearing red nail polish. For them, a sign of immorality. They treated me like a prostitute that should be burned at the stake. They ordered me to immediately remove the red nail polish. Had I not told them, rather shouted what I would enjoy removing, rather cut off, of them. Neither do I forget what happened to me at Qom, the holy city of Khomeini, where because I was a woman I was not allowed to register in any hotel. To interview Khomeini I had to wear a chador, to put it on I naturally had to remove my blue jeans, in order to remove my blue jeans, I needed some form of privacy. I could have effectuated the change in the car in which I had arrived from Teheran. The interpreter refused to allow me to do so. You-are-crazy, you-are-crazy, to-do-such-a-thing-in-Qom-one-is-shot. He finally brought me to the ex Royal Palace where a custodian had pity on us and hosted us. He loaned us the throne room. In fact I was feeling like the Madonna, who to give birth to Jesus took refuge with Joseph in the stable warmed by the donkey and bull. But the Koran forbids a man and woman who are not married to be alone together behind closed doors, Yikes! Suddenly the door burst open. The Mullah in charge of morality came in shouting shame-shame, sin-sin, there was only one way not to end up shot to death, to marry. To sign the marriage act which would elapse in time (four months) that he was waiving in our faces. The problem was that the driver had a Spanish wife, a certain Consuelo that was not at all disposed to accept polygamy, and I did not want to marry anyone. Even less an Iranian with a Spanish wife who was not at all disposed to accept polygamy. At the same time I did not want to be shot nor lose the interview with Khomeini.

    I was debating this dilemma with myself and …
    You laugh, I am certain of it. They seem like jokes to you. Well then I won’t tell you how this episode ended. To make you cry I will tell you the one of the twelve young men declared impure who at the end of the war in Bangladesh I saw executed in Dacca. They executed them on the field of the stadium of Dacca, bayonetted in the chest and stomach, in the presence of twenty thousand faithful who applauded in the bleachers in the name of God. They thundered “Allah akbar, Allah akbar”. I know, I know: in the Coliseum the ancient Romans, those ancient Romans of whom my culture is very proud, amused themselves seeing the Christians die as meals for lions. I know, I know: in all Christian European countries, those Christians, who in spite of my atheism I recognize the contribution they made to the history of thought, amused themselves seeing the heretics burn. However, a lot of time has gone by since then, we’ve become a little more civilized, and even the sons of Allah should have understood that certain things are not done. After the twelve impure young men, they killed a child who in order to save his brother who had been condemned to death , had thrown himself on the executioner. His head was squashed by military boots.”

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  2. Please consider expanding this writeup into an article.

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