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Upright pen dipped in global conflict

From the druglords of Columbia to Yasser Arafat, Northern Ireland leaders to Jimmy Carter, Ron Chepesiuk’s writing career has taken him across the world and into the heart of global conflict. And American though he may be, he does not cringe before expressing self-proclaimed “anti-establishment” views before the establishment.

Case in point: The Fulbright scholar — the first ever to spend time at Chittagong University — was scathing in his criticism of the Bush administration’s policy on terror. In Calcutta for a few days, he elaborated at the American Center on how “embedded” reporters and coloured commentary prevail in a fourth estate all too eager to toe the official line in the name of patriotism.

Cynicism about a section of the media does not limit the Canadian-born, naturalised American’s active life within the industry, though the Iraq war has disrupted quite a few of his plans. “I was supposed to go to Pakistan before the war broke out, after which I was asked to choose another destination,” explains Chepesiuk.

But he has taken that and other changes in his stride, making “productive use” of his stay in the region. On Friday evening, he conducted a workshop on investigative journalism at the Center. He has also been teaching feature writing, advanced journalism and investigative journalism in the department of journalism at Chittagong University, since his arrival in January.

But writing books is what keeps the man going. He has penned pieces for New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and St Petersburg Times. The prolific writer awaiting the publication of his 18th book, titled The Bullet or Bribe: Taking Down Columbia’s Cali Drug Cartel, has already conceived the 19th and begun to think about the 20th.

A book on Bangladesh, to be his home till November, is the chosen subject. “It will be about the global problems that plague Bangladesh — the things I know about — like human trafficking, arsenic and women’s rights,” adds Chepesiuk, in Calcutta with his co-writer and “best friend” G. Sarwar Chowdhury, a professor at Chittagong University.

Scheduled for completion by next February, the duo will cover 13 issues in a book that will “not break new ground” but will “put things in perspective”. Chepesiuk, who has travelled to around 40 countries, is on his first visit to the region. “I read six papers every day, and I thought there may be a book here somewhere.”

Thinking ahead, he is returning to his area of “expertise”, and is planning a book on the “interplay of drugs and terrorism”, and the subject he is “most comfortable with — international crime”.

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