It’s not the sounds of blazing guns or the smell of death that makes former war and conflict correspondent Alan Hart misty-eyed. It’s the memory of seeing the living dead that has that effect on him. As a part of the Independent Television Network (ITN) crew that went in to cover the Nigerian-Biafra civil war in the late 60s, Hart stumbled upon a village filled with children between ages three and 10 — all malnourished.
“Their bellies were swollen; their hair orange and their faces wizened, they looked almost a hundred years old,” he says. “And as we started shooting, I broke down. No parents, no food — these children were all alone. Death, I could always deal with; but not this — not the living dead.”
It’s incidents like these that have led Hart to do what he does today — show the world the dimensions of global poverty as well as propagate peace. At 65, this former presenter of BBC’s Panorama programme has been travelling all over India for the last three weeks. He has been educating students, social organisations and intellectuals about the crisis in West Asia, an issue very close to his heart.
“I want the world to know the truth. People have been conditioned to believe that Israel’s existence has been in danger. But that’s not true,” he says passionately. Which is also why he has written two books on the subject — Arafat: A Political Biography and Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews (in two volumes). “This will help people see how the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is the Israel-Palestine war fall into place,” he says.
Tired of what he calls “the media’s betrayal of democracy”, Hart even launched his own independent production house so that he could make a film on global poverty. The result: the two-hour film Five Minutes to Midnight, which premiered at the seventh special session of the United Nations General Assembly. “I was able to give people the basic statistic that 15 million children under five were dying of malnutrition every year,” he says.
Hart’s a riveting storyteller. Anecdotes of global leaders such as Yasser Arafat, Margaret Thatcher and even Golda Meir keep the conversation alive. “Geoffrey Cox, my boss at ITN, had encouraged me to be friends with these leaders. He had told me, ‘Alan, never forget that world leaders are the loneliest people on earth, as they are surrounded by sycophants and flatterers.’ It was true. If you were out of their circuit, you could have the most frank and open discussions with them.”
Through all his earnestness, Hart hasn’t lost his sense of humour. That he wasn’t born to the world of the über rich might have something to do with his being grounded in “real” issues. “I am a citizen of the world and like the Arabs and Muslims, I don’t hate America or the Americans, but American foreign policy. But all that can change if Obama has a magic wand,” he says tongue-in-cheek.
Stirring his cooling cup of coffee at the India Islamic Culture Centre in Delhi, Alan remembers an evening spent with Mother Teresa, who he calls a ‘bully’ and a ‘tough old lady’. “Sitting across the dinner table, she argued for love while I argued for justice. And you know what, I still think justice overrules love. I don’t have to love the people of Palestine to fight for justice for them.”
A great believer in the “university of life”, Alan plans to pen down his memoirs which will be published in India by Contemporary India Publishers — which means he’ll be back soon. “It’s been hard to get someone to print the real history, uncut and factual,” he rues. “People don’t want to offend others, but I’m glad I’ve got someone who wants to listen to my story.”
A crusader of sorts, Hart is all set to reveal a facet of the world different from what people have been led to believe. But telling the truth, he says, is a lonely job.