Dear Naren

I first began speaking with K.S. Narendran right after the disappearance of MH Flight 370 in March 2014. His wife, Chandrika, was on that doomed jet.

We spoke by phone, Skype an email — conversations that resulted in several stories on CNN. I finally had the chance to meet him yesterday in Bangalore. I felt honored he made time for me.

I felt some apprehension about the meeting. I was not sure how much he still wanted to talk about the tragedy that befell him; how much he wanted to just move on.

But the meeting was easy. Even though I had never seen him before, at times, it felt that I had known him for a while. After all, he had shared with me some of the most personal parts of his life, the kind of things you share only with family and those closest to your heart.

In the end, we met not as journalist and subject of story but as friends, really — and with the hope that our friendship will continue.

Here are the stories:



Diwali, Lakshmi and good winning over evil

The return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya. (From Ramayana online).

The return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya. (From Ramayana online).

Today we mark a day of solemnity, remembering all those who fought for our country. I salute you on Veterans Day, especially those of you I came to know well in Iraq. I think of you often, not just on days reserved to honor you.

Today is also a day of joy. It’s the festival of lights. Happy Diwali, everyone!

Hindus and Jains mark the day by decorating their homes and streets with rows and rows of diyas, or oil lamps. Well, these days, many folks use more convenient candles or electrical lamps.

Light is such an important metaphor in so many religions. It is the presence of a higher being. Hindus see light also as a metaphor for self-awareness and self-improvement.

The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit Deepawali — a row of lights. The festival celebrates a triumph of good over evil.

The story stems from the Hindu epic, “Ramayana,” in which Prince Rama returns to the kingdom of Ayodhya from 14 long years of exile with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakhsmana. Rama comes back a hero after defeating the nasty Ravana, the 10-headed king of the demons.

Rama becomes king and Ayodhya prospers in peace.



This was my favorite story of all from the Hindu epics, partly because I was born on Lakshmi puja, the day when Hindus pray to the goddess of prosperity. Sita is an avatar of Lakshmi, just as Rama is an avatar of the god Vishnu, the preserver.

The story of the  good Sita ends with a dramatic account of the ground splitting apart and Sita enters Earth’s womb. It’s a rescue for her from the cruel world that challenged her purity.

My pishi (aunt) read me stories from the Ramayana when I was a little girl. On Thursdays, I sat with her and my great-aunt in a mezzanine level room that housed the altars to the gods. The two women chanted mantras in Sanskrit in worship of Lakshmi while I gazed on the idols and detailed photos of the gods and goddesses, especially Lakshmi.

I think of those days every year on Diwali. I am so far from home and feel so connected at times through my memories. I don’t have diyas at my home but tonight I will light a candle and think of all the times I have borne witness to goodness winning over evil, something I don’t do often enough.


We said we would not forget Haiti


I spoke with my friend Jean Mariot Cleophat by phone today. It has been five years since I first met him.

He was my guide for much of my reporting journey through Haiti after the massive 2010 earthquake that left Haitians is utter despair. They called in “La catastrophe.”

Reporters from around the world rushed to Haiti then, hungry to tell the story of the disaster. Ordinary people felt moved to make donations, by cell phone even. The world pledged billions of dollars.

Everyone said: Haiti will rise from its ashes and finally succeed in its long struggle to overcome poverty.

Mariot and me in May 2010 in Port-au-Prince.

Mariot and me in May 2010 in Port-au-Prince.

Everyone said: We will not forget Haiti.

But we did forget Haiti, by and large.

It is the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and the world’s focus is not on Haiti today.

The earth shook for a mere 60 seconds that Tuesday and 220,000 people died.

Millions were left homeless, desperately seeking shelter in camps that grew to become huge tent cities.

In their vulnerable state, Haitians braved killer hurricanes and a cholera outbreak.

There are places in Port-au-Prince now that show no hints of the catastrophe.

The palace has been fixed up and shiny new buildings built. There are new roads, new houses. The markets are do brisk business. But, said Mariot, they belie the truth about Haiti. They belie the plight of ordinary people.

I asked Mariot how his life has been.

“I feel without hope,” he told me.

Mariot is not yet 30. He is educated and speaks English fairly well. Since the last time I saw him in early 2011,he has gotten married and now has a four-year-old daughter.

He’s worked numerous jobs in international companies. He got himself OSHA certified and was working for a construction firm but when the World Bank contract ran out, so did his job. He’s moved to the countryside because it’s cheaper there than Port-au-Prince. I asked him what he was dong for money.

He said he finds temporary jobs here and there; makes $300-400 a pop. It pays for food. But it’s hardly enough.

“There are no jobs here,” he said. “What happened to all the promises of jobs for Haitians?”

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend whose father used to work for a major cruise company. He told me how he had been to Haiti as a boy when tourists flocked to its turquoise waters and white sand beaches. I know there had been efforts to restart tourism in Haiti, a notion that irks those who see it as exploitative. But I wondered how much Haiti might profit from a booming tourism trade.

If we can talk about Cuba opening up to Americans who want to sun themselves in the tropics, then why not Haiti?

I don’t know what happened to all the people I met in Haiti. How did they recover? Were they able to regain a semblance of normalcy?

I think of them this week and pay tribute to their fortitude. And resilience.

Before he hung up, Mariot told me he lives by faith. Like all Haitians, he said, he lives by the grace of God.

Read my Haiti stories on

Buried alive for six days, survivors reunite

A day with Sean Penn in Haiti

Rescuer was woman’s last hope

Burying the dead

What it was a year later



Sad news from Afghanistan

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.21.02 AMWe lost another amazing journalist today.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an acclaimed photographer for the Associated Press, died instantly after an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan, the AP said. Correspondent Kathy Gannon was wounded and is in stable condition in hospital.

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.

Two days ago, Niedringhaus had tweeted about a tribute to another journalist, Sardar Ahmed, who was killed March 21 in the attack on the Serena Hotel.

I did not know Niedringhaus, though I am familiar with her incredible body of work. But I can imagine what kind of woman she was. Her fortitude. Her courage. Her convictions.

Just yesterday, I spoke on a panel at the University of Georgia about reporting on trauma. There was some discussion there about journalists in conflict zones. One student asked me how journalists deal with fear.

I did not have a good answer for her because the fear never goes away. It’s a matter of not dwelling on it and getting on with your work. But then, when news of tragedy comes, like today’s from Afghanistan, it’s difficult to remain composed.

Here’s to all my colleagues working at this very moment in places near and far where they are in harm’s way. They make me proud of my profession.

The little master makes history

A legend? An icon? 

In India, he is God.

And on Friday, God made India very proud. Even the prime minister said so.

The nation of 1 billion-plus erupted in celebration as cricketer Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century.

Never mind the unveiling of the budget Friday. It was all Sachin on Indian television. 

Never mind it was a workday. Companies probably suffered huge losses.

Twitter exploded with kudos for the batsmen known as the little master. As did Facebook. And Bollywood.

“God’s special creation .. Sachin Tendulkar !!” tweeted megastar Amitabh Bachchan.

Journalist Barkha Dutt weighed in with this:

“Nice to see a nation steeped in negativity and self flagellation finally breaking free from it all and actually feeling good. Thanks 
Tendulkar reached the elusive 100th international century against Bangladesh in an Asia Cup match in Dhaka.

“It hasn`t sunk in but I have definitely lost about 50kg,” he said afterward. 

He began playing at the age of 16 and thrilled cricket fans for 23 years. That in itself was a feat. His first century was at Old Trafford in 1990. Last year he reached 99 and Indians watched each subsequent match with high hopes. They pinned everything on the man with the demure stature, mop of wavy hair and uncanny swing of the bat. 

They waited and waited. There was even a joke about the a chunk of India’s car accidents happening because  drivers were trying to catch a Tendulkar make his 100th on a roadside stall television.

But today, Tendulkar made history. 

As my Facebook friend Rajiv Chatterjee said:

“I know his stats look great and I know he has achieved feats which will probably never be repeated again. But that is not the real reason. The real reason is that he has shouldered the dreams of a billion for 22 years which is more than what any mere mortal can. In a country where a lot of people cannot afford a square meal a day, he has represented hope of better times. Every time we had a lot of reasons to cry, he has given us something to smile about. Religion in India has more often than not divided people than unifying it. But one thing has always been common … both Ram’s mother as well as Rahim’s wanted their sons to be exactly like Sachin Tendulkar. Years later, I will really look forward to telling my grand children that yes, I have seen God with my own eyes…he used to bat at no. 4 for India!”

Homs Rules

Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez.

On this day in 1971, Hafez Assad became president of Syria. More than 30 years later, the world is witnessing tragedy unfold in Syria at the hands of Assad’s son. 

Bashar al-Assad, whom many had believed would bring reform to Syria, is turning out to be made of the stuff of his father.

Journalists like Tom Friedman and Robert Fisk saw firsthand the carnage the elder Assad was responsible for in Hama, where a 1982 Muslim Brotherhood-rebellion was quashed by shelling entire neighborhoods. 

Now, Bashar al-Assad’s forces are targeting cities like Homs and Idlib, where Syrians have risen up in mass against tyranny.

In 1982, there were no instant images posted on Twitter and YouTube, no clandestine interviews conducted on mobile phones or Skype. Friedman journeyed to Hama after the massacre and gave this account:

“It was stunning. Whole swaths of buildings had, indeed, been destroyed and then professionally steamrolled into parking lots the size of football fields. If you kicked the ground, you’d come up with scraps of clothing, a tattered book, a shoe.”

Later he wrote a book and gave the massacre a name: “Hama Rules.” That is, there were no rules at all. Hafez Assad plunged to new lows to retain power.

Amnesty International said as many as 20,000 Syrians were killed in Hama. I wonder how high the death toll will rise in the current conflict. When will it end? How long will Bashar al-Assad keep killing his own people?

I wish I were able to be there, to bear witness to acts that should not be happening in 2012. I do my best to tell the story on with the reporting of brave network correspondents, producers and cameramen. But I fear we are dealing with “Homs Rules.” A different time, different people but a son that seems just as determined to crush his opponents as was his father.

Iran’s first Oscar

Perhaps I should have gone to see “The Artist” Saturday night. After all, it won the Oscar for best picture last night. But I saw “A Separation” instead.

It was an incredibly well-acted film dealing with a broken marriage that weaves trouble through the lives of ordinary people. It is about class divisions, family relationships, the power of religion and hope in every heart for a better life.

Only this film is Iranian. Set in Tehran, Westerners got a rare glimpse into the living rooms of Iranians dealing with the same kinds of problems we find at home, save the far-reaching tentacles of the Islamic regime.

Iranians stayed up late to watch the Oscars on illegal satellite feeds, enormously proud of the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (best foreign language film).

The timing could not have been better, I thought, as director Asghar Farhadi held up his golden statue. “At a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics,” he said.

I read this morning that even Israelis were flocking to see “A Separation.” Iranians are their arch-enemies and bellicose talk of late has led to speculation that Israel may launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to stop its nuclear progress.

But ultimately, Israelis saw in the movie Iranians who were just like themselves. That spoke volumes for the universality of “A Separation.” People everywhere ultimately cope with the same problems — the ones that make us not American or Israeli or Iranian, but the ones that make us human.

“A Separation” is not always easy to watch. It was especially hard for me to look at the scenes of a man stricken with Alzheimer’s. I could see my own Baba.

But if you have not seen this movie, go soon to a theater near you. Ayatollahs and nuclear bombs aside, Iran has delivered a rare gem.

“A Separation” supplies no answers and is subtitled: “The Truth Divides.” But Iran is a country that remains largely unknown to Americans. Farhadi’s film, I believe, takes a few of the veils off.

Journalism and courage

Marie Colvin lost an eye in Sri Lanka.
She was killed in Syria.

Today, journalists are mourning the deaths of two of their own.Marie Colvin of London’sSunday Times and French journalist Remi Olchik were killed Wednesday in thebesieged Syrian city of Homs.

Their deaths came a few days after we learnedNew York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack, also in Syria.
Remi Olchlik was also killed in Homs.

They were courageous. Brave in the actionsthey took and even braver in what they told the world about atrocities andinjurites they witnessed firsthand.

They are worthy of headlines and deserving of tribute.

Chandrika Rai and his family were
 bludgeoned to death in India.

So are journalists of lesser name who put their lives on the lineevery day reporting from their own countries.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported this week thatIndian journalist Chandrika Rai , his wife and two teenage children werebludgeoned to death in their home in Umaria in the state of Madhya Pradesh.Rai, 42, worked for Hindi-language dailies and was investigating illegal coalmining in Umaria.

The committee quoted Shalabh Bhadoria, president of a MadhyaPradesh press freedoms group, who said that Rai’s death could be connected tothe kidnapping of a local official’s son. Rai apparently, had contradicted agovernment official’s claim that the two kidnapping suspects were not guilty.

The committee has asked for an investigation. Local journalistswore black arm bands this week in remembrance.

We hearof cases like Chandrika’s all too often. Journalists who go missing. Or are founddecapitated. 

Theytake enormous risks to tell the story. And unlike foreign journalists, localreporters do not have the luxury of “getting out” after they get thestory. They must remain in their communities and be ready to suffer theconsequences.

Kudos tomy colleagues across the world who take such risks every day of their lives.They are committed and passionate about what they do. On this awful day oftragedy, I salute them all.

Indianjournalist Barkha Dutt said on Twitter said this morning:  “For all those who sit at their computers& pass easy judgment Marie Colvins death in Syria grim reminder of courageneeded to go out there”

I secondthat thought.

A new Guiness record!

Thomas Oliver and Melissa Turner
were part of the record-setting crowd.

I just read that the Tybee Island polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day officially broke a Guinness World Record.

“Guinness World Record now credits the Jan. 1 event as the largest ever gathering of people wearing swim caps,” reported the Savannah Morning News. “In all, 2,049 New Year’s beach-goers sported caps for the event, which also served as a fundraiser for the Tybee Post Theater — whom Guinness lists as the official record holder.”

Congratulations to my friends Thomas Oliver, Melissa Turner and Jill Vejnoska for taking the plunge that day and sporting their swim caps.

I am thrilled I was on hand to witness such a historic event.