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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Waiting for Zola

For understandable reasons, every now and then in the course of our brief and tragedy-riddled national history, I am reminded of a piece of journalism that has been referred to, by many, as the greatest newspaper article, ever. Written in defence of Alfred Dreyfus - falsely accused, tried, and convicted for crimes against the state in France (yes - neither we nor the USA hold a patent on this!) - its author was novelist Emile Zola, whom Anatole France called, “a moment in the conscience of man.”

Click on the image to read a webpage on the event and here if you want to download a 15-page pdf file of the annotated article itself.)
On January of 1998 France held a memorial on the centenary of J’Accuse, at which President Chirac said: Let us never forget the courage of a great writer who, taking every risk, putting his tranquility, his fame, even his life in peril, dared to pick up his pen and place his talent in the service of truth. Zola's article, the stories that surrounded it, and his books - those available in English - were part of my partially enforced literary diet. I can still recall the aroma of the tattered special edition of Zola's J'accuse & Vérité that I was made to read, by my father, as part of a deal involving a strongly recommended trio of books. These were books he thought I, despite being a voracious and precocious reader, may not ever pick up of my own volition - though about one (Thoms Paine's The Rights of Man) I am sure he was wrong. I would have gotten to it sooner or later. The third was the massive Tilismé Hosh Ruba - an immense Urdu work of fantasy and fiction that I could not let go of once I started on it ... but would have probably avoided, at least at that age, without his egging me on. Thanks, Abi - for this and so much more!
ThE 'DEAL': We had come home after watching a re-run of the brilliant movie version of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds (still worth watching ... and essential, in fact, to counter the disgust one is left with after seeing the recent remake) and Abi had finished his dramatacized re-telling - for the Nth time in my 17 years of life - of Orson Welles's famous radio broadcast, when I asked him for the key to his bookshelves. I was excited and wanted to read anything by Wells. And he said I'd have to read Zola first! Huh? I was suddenly and genuinely tearful (a state he could never bear to see) and he relented. But he made me promise that I'd read the three books soon. For the record, I read Zola immediately after reading The Time Machine the same week.
Is there anyone here who would be a Zola? There are many among the younger journalists - in print and on the electronic media - who have instilled hope in me that, yes, the time has come when, soon, someone will take up this challenge, albeit made much more difficult by the increased stakes. This is not to say that we have not had courageous voices of dissent in the past, but I am looking for the one voice, the one piece of journalism that, a hundred years down the line, would be remembered with the same respect as Emile Zola and J'accuse. === By the way, this offer is unbeatable: All of Zola (in Hardcover) for $3.01! === Footnote: In 1958 Abi and I saw Jose Ferrer's portrayal of Dreyfus in a film that, though not extra-ordinary by any means, added to our combined admiration of this amazing actor.

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

When I was much younger, I liked to read comic books, mostly, and had to be cajoled into reading newspapers by my father (who still actively pursues his hobby of collecting news-paper clippings). With the passage of time, however, it became a habit and I soon graduated to reading news-magazines as well. A good percentage of the few books that I have managed to read have also been from his collection.

So I owe whatever (little) knowledge I have of the English language, mainly to my father.


30 December, 2007 15:08

Blogger jehan said...

Yes there are a number of courageous young journalists amidst us but I am not sure we have anyone of the calibre of Emile Zola. I hope I am wrong. Telling the truth often means being able to recognize the truth, instead of being taken in by the many falsehoods we hear - not only from government types or politicians but also from the business sector, the judiciary, anyone and everyone. Truth seems to be one of the main commodities that we are short of. And yes ... it is indeed not easy to be brave sometimes.

The deal you made with Abi worked to your benefit. Perhaps I can get that copy of Zola for US$3 if I hurry.

01 January, 2008 21:11


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