Knot together

Renowned war correspondent Anjan Sundaram – who was recently in Bengaluru – on his latest book, a deeply intimate account of the profound personal toll exacted by his relentless pursuit of truth in conflict zones...
Journalist Anjan Sundaram
Journalist Anjan Sundaram

BENGALURU: War reporting has always had a certain allure in the public consciousness. Pop culture – from actor Jennifer Connelly in the acclaimed thriller Blood Diamond to Kirsten Dunst in the latest Hollywood blockbuster Civil War – has often romanticised the profession, portraying correspondents as either courageous heroes risking their lives to tell vital stories or as reckless individuals obsessed with getting the story at any cost.

But reality tends to be quite different. “It’s a lot of tedium, and uncertainty. That experience of waiting, almost boredom, punctuated by episodes of high tension and emotion,” says author, academic and journalist Anjan Sundaram, known for his in-depth and often dangerous reporting from some of the world’s most challenging and lesser-known conflict zones.

Despite the romanticism, the toll of war reporting extends beyond physical danger. It permeates the personal lives of correspondents, often leading to strained relationships and psychological trauma. Sundaram’s latest book, Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime (Simon & Schuster; `699), is a prime example, chronicling the disintegration of his marriage amid the backdrop of his relentless pursuit of truth. “Having a gun to your head multiple times can easily become traumatising. It takes a toll, and that’s what Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime is about,” shares the 41-year-old, who was recently in Bengaluru.

Born in India, raised in Dubai, and deeply immersed in the world of science and mathematics, Sundaram’s journey into journalism was anything but conventional. While at Yale University, despite having no formal training, he was driven purely by a desire to shed light on underreported atrocities. He travelled to Congo almost on a whim, intending to stay for just a few months. Instead, he remained for a year and a half, beginning a two-decade-long career in war reporting. His work has taken him to some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, documenting humanitarian crises for some of the world’s major publications.

'Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime' is a deeply intimate memoir, that intertwines personal and political turmoil, offering a haunting account of his experiences in the Central African Republic (CAR) during its descent into chaos. The book juxtaposes his deteriorating marriage with the unfolding violence in CAR, painting an eerie portrait of a nation’s struggles – which is almost invisible to the rest of the world – and the unravelling of a relationship. The memoir not only documents the horror perpertrated during the conflict in the CAR but also explores the impact of war reporting on his personal life.

“My family and marriage gave me stability and an anchor, but the reporting ultimately damaged and destroyed the marriage, which is a common experience among war reporters and human rights workers. Unfortunately, due to machismo, many men don’t describe these tensions and costs. It was important for me to describe them,” he shares.

“I wanted to start the book by describing the strength and beauty of the marriage that eventually broke down. If I didn’t start with that, the impact of the breakdown at the end wouldn’t be as strong. The reader wouldn’t understand the loss unless they could see how beautiful the marriage was. Writing about that beauty was difficult because every time I tried, I felt resentful about losing it, and I couldn’t write. Writing helped me process the loss and eventually describe how important and complete the marriage was. This was one of the purposes of the book.”

Despite the personal costs, Sundaram remains committed to his mission. “For me, despite the cost, it’s very much worth it. I feel very grateful to have a strong sense of purpose from this line of work,” he shares.

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