Author Deep Halder: It’s important to revisit tragedies that have been glossed over
This World Refugee Day(June 20), Author Deep Halder of the book, Blood Island: An Oral History of the Marichjhapi Massacre, shares why it took almost five years to write this book, the challenges he had to undertake and the story that shook him the most.Updated: Jun 21, 2019, 16:01 IST
The bedtime tales that we hear as children, often stay with us. That’s how we were introduced to Cinderella and Peter Pan. But for author and journalist Deep Halder, the stories that he heard as a child were of blood, violence and human cruelty. And the horror tales were unfortunately real. When he grew up, those stories kept haunting him. He set out on a search to find the truth, which unfortunately was gory, gruesome and devastating. And they are now recorded in his book — Blood Island: An Oral History of the Marichjhapi Massacre. He followed the accounts of survivors of the tragedy, and those that fought for the victims.
In a tête-à-tête on World Refugee Day, he talks about the importance of awareness, going “back to stories”, and exhuming facts. “I think as journalists we need to be aware of what’s happening around us, to never lose touch with the ground. It is important to dig out inconvenient truths and revisit tragedies that have been glossed over. You should make it a point to go back to those stories and exhume facts,” he says.
On how the book was conceptualised, Halder shares that it was from the first-hand experiences from one of the survivors of the massacre — Mana Goldar — who took shelter in his house. “Mana would tell me stories of adventure and resolve, of terror and tragedy, how thousands of refugees were massacred for daring to make an uninhabited island home. I was too young to process most of what she said, but the stories stayed with me. Much later, when I became a freelance reporter in Kolkata I sought out Marichjhapi’s survivors to make sense of what I had heard as a child. That is when the idea of a book germinated,” he says.
“As journalists, it is important to dig out inconvenient truths, to revisit tragedies that have been glossed over. Often the madness of the 24*7 news cycle makes you move away from stories that need a deeper research”
Was he afraid to write a book on a tragedy that may have practically disappeared from public memory? “Marichjhapi is independent India’s biggest massacre, yet the work that has been done so far is mostly academic. I questioned myself again and again whether I would be able to do justice to the subject,” he says.
He adds, “I didn’t want to appropriate their voice. I didn’t want to interpret what happened in Marichjhapi 40 years ago. I wanted the survivors to let the world know what they suffered,” he says, adding that many want it to be added in history books now.
But the most difficult and mentally draining part was getting interviews and accounts of people who reported on the tragedy, those who fought for the victims and survivors. “It was difficult tracking down Marichjhapi’s survivors. It was more difficult making them trust me enough to revisit a tragedy that destroyed their lives 40 years ago. They would break down while retelling their stories, sometimes turn hostile or even question my intention behind interviewing them. It took me almost five years to write the book. It was mentally draining to search for them, make them agree to talk to me and go back again and again,” he says.
The course of writing the book was filled with several poignant moments but the one left a mark on the author was meeting Mana Goldar again. “I had heard of Marichjhapi from her as a child. To meet her again and hear it all from her and realise what she went through was difficult. It was as if time turned and nostalgia stabbed me,” he concludes.
Interact with the author on Twitter/@Nainaarora8