The veteran London-based journalist Sanjay Suri has grilled and written about scores of prominent people – from statesmen to community activists – during his four decades in the news business.
But, like many great journalists, he makes for a rather awkward interviewee – precisely because of what he does for a living.
As I quiz him on his new book ‘1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After’ his answers are devoid of garnish and, for much of the time, unemotional.
He is precise and to the point, much like the book he has penned 31 years after thousands of Sikhs were massacred on the streets of India’s ancient capital New Delhi in the early days of November 1984 – a massacre that he saw first-hand.
The events of that year would change India’s socio-political landscape and forever char it.
Author Sanjay Suri.
Suri was a 28-year-old crime reporter for the Indian Express newspaper in Delhi when the anti-Sikh violence convulsed the city following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984.
3000 Sikhs were butchered, thousands more injured and tens of thousands displaced as mobs ran rampant with the “complicity” of the government and police, according to Suri.
‘1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After’ is a reportage-driven narrative of the killings and its aftermath and a striking indictment of successive governments which have failed to deliver either justice or reconciliation of any form to the victims.
The book contains a treasure trove of previously-undocumented facts and first-hand accounts – a clinical examination of a horrific, human tragedy and one of the darkest episodes of Independent India, by a man who saw it all at arm’s length.
Suri has spent more than thirty years living with what he witnessed and there is a slight but discernible shift in his demeanour when I ask him about the emotional toll of seeing such horrors at close quarters.
He places his hand on his face and stares at the distance momentarily before saying: “My life has never been the same because it is divided into before and after 1984. I often forget things from yesterday but my problem is that I can’t forget what I saw thirty one years ago”.
“They were days that broke my faith in humanity and my faith in India”.