Batuk Gathani: Out of Africa

TRUE STORY: Batuk Gathani corrected the ‘false
news’ of Ernest Hemingway’s death
TRUE STORY: Batuk Gathani corrected the ‘false news’ of Ernest Hemingway’s death
By Amit Roy

VETERAN journalist Batuk Gathani’s fu­neral at Golders Green Crematorium last Saturday (9) ended with the Swahili song, Jambo Jambo Bwana, Habari ga­ni, Mzuri sana (Hello, Hello sir, How are you, I’m very fine), recalling sunlit days in Kenya, the country of his birth, in the 1950 and 1960s.

In the bright English sunshine, floral tributes were laid out, including one from the Indian Journalists’ Association.

Britain’s large and successful East Af­rican Indian population is now well set­tled in this country, but something of the past lingers in their DNA.

Some of Batuk’s relatives had flown in from Kenya, so in all there were “38 members of the family” gathered in the West Chapel, his wife Minal said.

There were moving words from Batuk’s surgeon daughter Toral, while his son, Viral, said his father’s life involved three countries – Kenya, Britain and India.

Viral also related one story involving Ernest Hemingway, after the plane fer­rying the 55-year-old celebrated Ameri­can author and his fourth wife Mary Welsh had crashed in the upper Nile country of East Africa in January 1954.

Batuk, then 19, received frantic mes­sages from UPI (United Press Interna­tional) in New York urging him to con­firm Hemingway’s death.

He found that although the plane had crashed near the Murchison Falls, Hem­ingway and his wife were “very much alive” in “one of the most inaccessible spots in Uganda – dominated by croco­diles, elephants, buffaloes, lions and other big game”, according to reports.

The memorable quote Hemingway gave Batuk was probably not used by UPI: “Listen son, you’ve got to understand, these b***ards (a reference presumably to his detractors in America) have been trying to kill me off for years.”