Saturday, 22 October 2011

A peep into Gadhafi's life and Libya

Last night a Hindi news channel was showing a short footage repeatedly. The anchor was also repetitive. She kept on saying – ‘You can see the bare body. You can see the body smeared with blood. You can_ _ _ _ _’ I switched to another channel.

In the second channel the anchor it seemed was more interesting in repeating that Gadhafi ensured through medical tests that he had inducted only virgin girls as his bodyguards.

Colonel Gadhafi was finally killed by the rebels of the National Transitional Council (NTC) on October 20, 2011.

Fed up with the news channels that were not showing or saying anything worthwhile, I switched the TV off and pulled out a book from the bookshelf. I went through the contents page. The names of the chapters were – Villains, Dictators, Icons, Bombings, Absurdities and Pleasures. The contents page also did not help me as I was in a hurry. I went to the index page and looked at the entries under the letter g. I stopped at Gadhafi, Colonel - 179-85. I opened page 179 and started reading.

The title of the book was - A Mad World, My Masters; the author - John Simpson, a British journalist. I had bought the book nine years back and had twice read it cover to cover. But yesterday night, I was interested in reading only about Gadhafi. Simpson had written about Gadhafi in a chapter titled Dictators.

Reading about Gadhafi in a chapter named Villains or Icons or Bombings or Absurdities or Pleasures would not have surprised me.

According to the book, Simpson had interviewed Gadhafi twice. The journalist narrates his second encounter with the dictator in the book.

Simpson does not exactly say when he interviewed Gadhafi for the second time. The book says sanctions had been imposed on Libya due to the Lockerbie Bombing and the country had been declared a no-fly zone in the nineties. Hence the interview must have taken place in that decade.

Simpson and his cameraman, Bob Prabhu (most probably an Indian or a Sri Lankan) had to sail to Libya instead of flying.

They were taken to a military base in the deserts on the outskirts of the state capital for the interview on the next day after reaching Tripoli.

Simpson meets Gadhafi in a tent. The interview is recorded by Prabhu. There is no mention of Gadhafi’s women bodyguards in the book. Simpson is happy when the interview is over. He thinks he has a scoop.

Both return to the hotel after meeting the dictator. As Simpson is writing about the about the interview in his hotel room in the evening, he is interrupted by Prabhu.

The cameraman says there is something funny about the interview.

Simpson is alarmed. He thinks that the tapes have been damaged.

‘Nothing like that,’ Bob assures Simpson. ‘Gadhafi was making a noise, that’s all.’

‘Whatever are you on about? What kind of noises?’

‘Kind of personal ones,’ says Prabhu and looks the other way.

‘What, stomach rumblings?’

‘No; worse than that.’

‘What, farting?’ Simpson screams.He is not able to believe.

Simpson was sitting close to Gadhafi during the interview and did not hear any noise.

But Prabhu insists that Simpson should watch the recoding. Simpson does so and is finally convinced.

Simpson writes in the book – The personal microphone which Bob Prabhu had pinned on Gadhafi had picked it up very clearly. The wind passage lasted for about 10 minutes of our half-an hour interview. Gadhafi would rise up a little in his seat, the thunder would roll for 15 or 20 seconds at a time and then he would sink back into his seat with a pleased expression on his face.

Simpson says that he ran the interview in truncated form in two different programmes of the BBC but the wind breaking was audible in both versions.

Simpson wrote about the interview in the Sunday Telegraph. It had the sentence – During part of our interview, Col. Gadhafi broke wind audibly and at length. The article was headlined – Warm Wind of Compromise Blows from Gadhafi.

The book has three black and white photographs of Gadhafi taken during the interview. He is in a Hawaiian shirt, a straw hat and dark glasses.

Gadhafi is looking towards his right, with his mouth slightly open in the first photograph. The caption says – contemplative....

In the second one, he is looking up, his mouth open again. The caption – declaiming.

The third photograph – he is looking down and his mouth is closed and twisted. The caption – ....discreetly breaking wind.

But Simpson was not the only one through whom I had a peep into the lives of Libyans.

Around 10 years back I stayed in a government transit hostel in New Delhi for a couple of days.

The hostel was for Indian diplomats who were to take fresh assignments. On the second day of my stay, the wife of an Indian diplomat dropped in to have a chat with my host.

I became interested when I heard she had recently returned from Libya. The woman’s husband had worked in the Indian embassy in Tripoli and was to take a fresh assignment in India.

I asked her about Libya.‘You feel as if someone is constantly watching you. You feel suffocated,' said the woman, a housewife.

At that time the woman's son was 20 and daughter 16.

‘Even the foreigners are not spared. Being Indians, we knew nobody could harm us. But still we felt uneasy and took precautions,’ said the woman.

‘Saying even a word against the government meant disappearing . Many locals of Tripoli, whom I closely knew disappeared forever,’ she said.

‘Roads in Tripoli would become deserted by 7 p.m. We returned home at any cost before sunset,’ said the woman.

My spine had started chilling. Perhaps reading my expressions, the woman changed the topic and said, ‘Vegetables are much cheaper and fresher in Delhi than in Tripoli.’


  1. Thanks Rohit, for throwing light on the 'personal life' of Gadhafi.

  2. Are you a new Khushwant Singh in the making?