Thursday 08 February 2007
Ryszard Kapuscinski did not deny his talent,
writes Steve Crawshaw [further to the obituary by Alex Duval Smith, 26 January]. At the same time, however, his legendary curiosity and generosity were accompanied by an extraordinary humility, which was itself humbling.
This man who had been everywhere, and seen everything, and survived in the most dangerous places, retained a wondrous innocence. He gently mocked the self-importance of others - and seemed faintly bemused by the insatiable interest in his own work, and in himself.
On one occasion, he was due to give a grand talk in London, at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington. We agreed that I would pick him up at his hotel, and go to the event together. A crisis in the office delayed me, and I rang to apologise. I said that I would see him at the event. "But how will I get there?" he asked, with genuine concern. Well, I said, it's just round the corner - and the hotel concierge will certainly help you. If you want, you could even take a taxi. But no, he insisted, this was most troublesome. He wasn't rebuking me, merely giving a little flutter of self-deprecating helplessness that could be his most disarming weapon. He coped easily with impossible challenges, all over the world. But cosy Western comfort never made him feel at home.
He was lauded, all over the world - including at home in Poland, where he was adored, for his honesty and his free spirit. (During the strikes of August 1980 which led to the birth of the Solidarity free trade union and thus, less than a decade later, to the collapse of the one-party system, Kapuscinski's reportage from the shipyards was as trenchant as his reportage from abroad had always been.) He did not protest at the praise that was increasingly heaped upon him. But always, he seemed to say: "Why the fuss?"
Some know so little, and yet seem so confident that they are wise. Kapuscinski was the opposite: he knew and had seen so much, and yet he always wanted to know more. That, of course, was why one reason why he was so wise.
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