Anita Pratap speaks to LEELA MENON on her second book and her attempts to empower women in Saudi Arabia, where she now lives.
Photo: Mahesh Harilal
Arne Walther, Secretary General of the International Energy Forum with Anita Pratap
ARNE WALTHER, the first Secretary General of the International Energy Forum, based in Riyadh, is visiting Kerala. Wonder why? Because he is Anita Pratap's husband. They are in Kochi to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of her parents living in Kochi.
"My husband loves Kochi. He is known abroad as the son-in-law of Kerala. We round off the year with a boat trip through the backwaters to Kumarakam," she says.
From journalist to author to media shaper, Anita Pratap has traversed the globe and transcended its different dimensions, acquiring a niche all her own. Anita is poised to induct liberal values and introduce or enhance women's empowerment in no less a place than in Saudi Arabia. Anitha is the media consultant to the Saudi Royal family. The International Energy Forum, a newly constituted global agency, which has 70 countries including the U.S., European Union, Russia, China and India to promote dialogue between oil producing and oil importing countries. This is in the context of the reality that oil is the prime factor even in politics, with the global economic scenario totally dependent on oil.
"Oil is a deciding factor in international politics, not merely an economic issue. Hence, India is hosting the first conference of IEA, playing host to 60 countries," Anita says. She and her husband are in India to attend the conference.
Reverting to herself, Anita says she is into her second book but only the first chapter has been finished. It is about a village in India. "But I'm enjoying life, globe trotting. Who wants to be cloistered in a room? As journalists we visit strife torn areas or cover floods and cyclones. But now I'm seeing countries, seeing how China is a booming economy, yet having so much disparity in development, and distribution of wealth, not having the transparency of India. "Hello, there is no communism here in China, it is capitalism that rivals the U.S.," she laughs. "It is soulless development, without any spiritual nourishment, eroding the ancient culture and heritage." And she warns Kerala not to be obsessed just with Infotech and Biotech. "It's good if can diversify and expand to medical speciality tourism, Ayurveda etc."
But Anita is devastated by the environmental degradation of Kochi in particular and Kerala in general. Married to a Norwegian and familiar with the fetishist environmental sensitivity of Norway, Anita is shocked at the mindlessness with which the Malayali degrades his environment. "Kerala has so much potential but it is going the Gurgaon and Bangalore way, losing its environmental sustainability. Kerala is a jewel in terms of natural beauty. Nature is its asset," she says, pleading, "Please listen before it is too late."
So, how is she spending time in Riyadh?
"Saudi Arabia is a fascinating country in transition now. It is at the cross roads as India was in 1991. At crossroads in culture, tradition, archaic Islamic laws, and is in urgent need of reform. The media can be a major role player in this scenario."
"Saudi Arabia is a very rich but closed Bedouin tribal society but the Internet satellite technology has brought the world into drawing rooms. They are rich in petrodollars and it has opened up in the year 2000. There is a change in levels of aspiration, and development. But it lacks the entertainment dimension, without avenues for the release of their energy. So they need to have a modern society without sacrificing their customs.
"It is in this context that she feels that media is a tool to induct liberal values and usher women's emancipation in a judicious way. Especially, the print media. Reforms have to be paced, without pushing for too much too quickly. Actually in this the Indian model is appreciated abroad, says Anita. "Saudis have a certain innocence, they are cocooned. I'm much wiser now. In fact, I follow the Rao principle." Anita recalls her time as a big timer in Indian journalism and her interview with the departed Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, who told her that "inaction is also action," when she questioned his policy of inaction.
She is currently training youngsters in journalism, teaching them how to conceive an idea and make a story out of it, exposing corruption, the good, the bad, the positive and inspirational. "I tell them to think, identify stories and teach them how to go about writing an article. I have a 25-member group now, including girls, and you know, the girls are much smarter than the boys. It was an eye opener for me that they are not shrinking violets but articulate to the extent of being opinionated. My students are in the 25-35 age group and they produce at least 25 articles a week, contributing meaningfully."
According to h, in Saudi Arabia, terrorism is . still active there. There is a population explosion, with 70 per cent of the population below the age of 20 and a high rate of unemployment, despite being so rich. Development, law and order and culture are all issues there. "Being a diplomat's wife I have diplomatic immunity and hence a ringside seat as a witness to change, the churning, and it is fun recording these changes," Anita says, adding that the Saudi interlude is a short but enjoyable one.
"I'm witnessing a moment in time, a typical period in history. It was exciting to witness the economic, social and cultural transition of India and it helps me give perspectives to help Saudi Arabia. Time is of the essence and it is important to take all on board," she stresses.
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