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Show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell

Here’s how The New Indian Express, Bangalore, narrates a recent massacre in a village in Bihar:

For Bihar, the story was sickeningly familiar. As villagers in tiny Narkopi
went around doing their shopping on the afternoon of September 13 at
the weekly bazaar, around 50 armed men struck. The shootout lasted
hours, by the end of which six were dead and many grievously injured.
The villagers turned to the police, and the latter ‘turned away”.

‘We requested the police to open fire to disperse them, but the police
remained mute,” says a villager, Mohammed Ismail.

That leaves the reader wondering:

1 If the police remained mute, who were the parties to the ‘shootout” (which means a gun — battle between at least two parties)?
2 Where were the six shot — dead? — in their homes/inside shops in the bazaar?
3 What exactly was the scene?
4 Where were the policemen who ‘turned away”? — in the thana/in tea shops?/at siesta?
5 Who were the six killed: men/women/children?
6 How many were the ‘many grievously injured”?

That report begins with a pretentious editorial comment, and answers none of those questions. Did the reporter go about a village blindfolded? Obviously, he never went anywhere near that village, and only sprinkled a few ready — made phrases on the crumbs he picked up from the police, or perhaps from regional — language papers that are far more enterprising. The absence of visual detail, and vague phrases such as around 50 men struck (at what?); the shootout (between whom?); many grievously injured (how many?) give him away. Contrast that with this report in The Times, London, on a massacre of Palestinians at a refugee camp at Chatila in 1982:

Reporters in our English — language papers most often practice just the opposite. Here’s a typical news item:

Eight persons were killed and nine others injured in a ghastly
road mishap on the National Highway 4 . . . in the early hours
today when a matador van collided with a lorry.

The injured include two women and two children and the con-
dition of three of the injured is said to be critical. The occupants
of the van were proceeding to . . . from Bangalore carrying the
body of a deceased relative when the mishap occurred. Those
killed in the accident include . . .

Some problems with that item:

1 A mishap is at most a minor, unlucky accident. A mishap may cause injuries. It cannot cause multiple deaths. Just how does a mishap become ‘ghastly”?
2 What was ‘ghastly” — the battered van/the scene of the accident/the way their bodies lay in the van? The reader can see nothing.
3 Were only those in the van killed and injured, or were some in the lorry also among them? The reader isn’t told. If only those in the van were killed, the reader might have seen it in a new light: this was Death’s van, if as many as eight of those carrying a corpse (to the crematorium?) were to become corpses before journey’s end. Not a happy thought, but one that might have justified ‘ghastly”.
4 What kind of kinship is implied by ‘deceased relative”? Would they have been carrying his ‘body” if he were alive?

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