Posted by: John Elliott | September 27, 2008

“Foreign Correspondent” – a best selling anthology

.Nov ’09: Now available in an updated paper back – see


I’ve just seen that a book I co-edited is doing well in the best seller lists, so it seems a good time to give a plug to this unique round-up of India’s past 50 or 60 years of history, as seen by foreign correspondents.It’s Foreign Correspondent – 50 Years of Reporting South Asia, which was published by Penguin India in the spring. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, where I’m the current president (see About this Blog, above).

We decided to mark the event with an anthology, and Penguin India’s editor in chief, Ravi Singh, was enthusiastic. He helped us produce it in record time so that we could present it to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, at a tea party he gave for the club’s 50th.

This week the book is the 7th best seller in a non-fiction list run by Bahri’s, the bookshop in Delhi’s Khan Market, which I guess many of you know. It’s only available on the Indian subcontinent (we’d like to find a publisher in the UK or US) and is in all the leading India bookshops.

I presented the book to the Prime Minister

I presented the book to the Prime Minister

There are about 80 articles written by foreign journalists posted in Delhi and by Indian journalists on the staff of foreign news media – all are or have been FCC members. It was a daunting task choosing the articles from a total of about 400, but we think we got a fair spread of the 50 years’ history and reporting.

One of the main controversies to appear early on in the book is the fiercely-debated verdict on Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Neville Maxwell, who was The Times correspondent in Delhi from 1959 to 1967, writes a scathing analysis, “Tarnished Image of Mr Nehru“, detailing what he saw as Nehru’s failures.

Correspondents on the airport road to strike-hit Kathmandu in 1991 - photo Bob Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Correspondents on the airport road to strike-hit Kathmandu in 1991 – photo Bob Nickelsberg/Getty Images

But it is neatly balanced by another piece by James Cameron, one of Britain’s leading foreign reporters of the time, who was a regular visitor here from the 1940s and wrote a lovely and illuminating book, An Indian Summer (Penguin London 1974, Penguin India 1994) that is still in print.

After Mr Nehru’s death, Mr Cameron mourned the loss of a “luminous, elaborate, obstinate, inspirational human being”.

Mr Maxwell is known for a book, India’s China War, that blames India, and in particular Mr Nehru, for “irrational policy-making”, which pushed the country into a military confrontation with China in 1962 that it could not win – and for failing since then to settle the border dispute.

The book horrified the Indian authorities to such an extent that it was banned soon after it came out in 1970, but it was republished in India in 1997 (Natraj Publishers Dehradun). Its views run counter to the Delhi line that China’s intransigence blocks the path to peace.

Either way, India’s devastating 1962 defeat, and the way that China marched into the country’s mountains and then walked out again when it chose to, has I believe affected India’s international pride and self-confidence ever since. Only now, with its new international economic importance and its strong relationship with the US, has India got most of that confidence back again.

Indira Gandhi with daughter-in-law Sonia and grandchildren Priyanka and Rahul - photograph by Raghu Rai

Indira Gandhi with daughter-in-law Sonia and grandchildren Priyanka and Rahul – photograph by Raghu Rai

There’s much else in the anthology. The past 25 years include Dean Brelis of Time magazine reporting a bleak future for Sri Lanka in 1983 as the Tamil troubles erupted, a great report by Matt Miller in the Asian Wall Street Journal of the controversial rise of Reliance Industries and the Ambani family, Mark Tully on the Nehru dynasty, and Trevor Fishlock on a Kashmir kidnapping (of Kim Housego, son of a former Financial Times correspondent) in the Daily Telegraph.

Simon Denyer (one of the book’s editors) of Reuters goes travelling with Nepal’s Maoists, Somini Sengupta of the New York Times with India’s Naxalites, and Simon Long of The Economist is in Bhutan studying the pursuit of happiness. There are various reports on the plight of India’s farmers and landless, plus much more – and splendid photographs including the Gandhi family above.

I hope you enjoy it!


  1. This anthology is now available in an updated paperback edition – click link on the right – je

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