View from a Terrace

Where do I begin?

I’m sitting on the terrace of my apartment in Delhi. It’s early evening and the light is already fading, but it’s still warm, and the leaves are falling all around me. The leaves fall in spring in Delhi, which seems strange to some one like me who grew up in Europe, and associates the fall with the nights drawing in, huddling around the bonfire for warmth, and the death of the year. But here it is the summer everyone fears, summer is the season of death, and even the trees are shedding excess leaves, paring themselves down to the bare essentials, ready to survive the furnace that will soon be upon us.

For now, though, the weather is balmy, idyllic. There’s a light breeze and it picks up the dead leaves and draws patterns with them on the ground. It picks up the dust too. The watchman walks by, beating his lathi on the ground: it makes a hollow sound. There are green parrots in the tree opposite.

It’s not a fancy apartment. The paint is peeling, and it’s in an oppressive shade of yellow that the landlord chose – when I asked him if we could change it, he wasn’t happy. The terrace is a little open space of cracked concrete beside a wall stained from last year’s monsoon rains, the paint on the iron railings bubbling with rust. I’m sitting on an old rope bed that is slowly coming apart.

I’ve lived in India, on and off, for the last eight years. I came here as a journalist for the British newspaper The Independent. When I left the paper, I felt my time in India wasn’t finished, so I stayed, but these days I spend a good deal of the time in London too.

I had an interesting time as a journalist. I was in Afghanistan and Iraq, I got shot at by all sorts of people. I witnessed revolutions in Serbia and Nepal. I seem to remember people celebrating by holding a jousting match between cars in Belgrade, young men sitting on top of cars holding long poles as they drove fast at each other, though I may have hallucinated that, I hadn’t slept in days.

I reported on earthquakes and tsunamis. I walked through the ruins of Jenin.  I hid from tanks on the streets of Bethlehem. I was nearly stoned to death by angry refugees on the Afghan-Pakistan border. I was in a car chase in Iraq. Sometimes it was fun, often it was terrifying. For a few years, I was at the centre of events, in the places the world was watching.

But I grew disillusioned with it. Working as a reporter, I felt I couldn’t write the way I wanted, tell the stories I wanted. My work was made to order to fit into some one else’s plan, dreamed up in London. I brought them stories and they told me how they wanted me to tell them. I had to feign anger when I didn’t feel it, and hide it when I did. I had to pretend enthusiasm for schemes I knew wouldn’t work. Newspaper stories are written by committee. I wanted to find my own voice. So I stayed in India and tried to learn to write.

Okay, it’s getting dark now and the mosquitoes will be coming. I have to go.


  1. Lovely to read your blog Justin. Hope you are well and that your writing is taking you in the direction you want to go. // kristina

  2. Now, I finally get to have a flavor of your style. I think I will read the fat book you have written once it is out. It is an indirect way of saying I am eagerly awaiting to read your books and other writings. =) Pity we haven’t yet come to a deal on the ‘item number’ for your novel(s)!

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