Indeed, Sundaram specifically refers to Kapuscinski’s desire to document important events as his reason for travelling to the Congo. That and his own desire to see a crisis. ‘I had lived in man’s genius for so long,’ he explains, ‘I wanted to know our destructive capacities.’ For a critic in India, more familiar with man’s destructive capacities than most, that isn’t much of a reason. One must assume, then, that Sundaram is simply enamoured with the idea of flying solo — aka roughing it as a stringer — in the dark continent. One must shrug and plod on with the review.
Sundaram doesn’t make things easy for himself by employing sentences like these: ‘The world had become too beautiful. The beauty was starting to cave in on itself — revealing a core of crisis.’ What does that mean, one is compelled to ask. To those who persevere patiently though, there are rewards. When he does get down to it, putting aside digressions that make sense to him alone, Sundaram comes across as a pretty solid reporter. He has an eye for detail (‘Around me the crowd ground like a windmill; now loudly bellowing, now whirling in silence’), the ability to dig deep and a refusal to take things at face value that will stand him in good stead if he chooses to repeat this exercise.
For a reporter, or those considering becoming one, this is still highly recommended. For others merely interested in great non-fiction on the world’s dark and troubled places, there’s always VS Naipaul’s back catalogue.
— Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey In The Congo, Anjan Sundaram, Penguin, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores.