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What Indian Politicians Read (Part 2)

A serial post: Read part 1 here 

Sitaram Yechury, Rajya Sabha MP and Politburo Member, CPM

Growing up, my childhood was primarily Telugu-speaking, and I was exposed to Telugu literature and poetry, a lot of which had social reform. The poetry of Sri Sri, a well-known revolutionary poet, moved me, as did the work of Gurazada Apparao. He was the first one I heard saying a country is not its bricks and mortar, that a country is its people. These early exposures raised a lot of questions – the questions of caste, of inequality, of language, of national integration – the answers to which I would eventually find in Marxism.


Sajjad Gani Lone, Chairman, People’s Conference

My life has been deeply impacted by certain books. Reading Khalid Hosseini left me sad and disturbed for days. His depiction of pain, gender inequality, and ethnic supremacy is heart-rending.

… I visualize the characters in his novels while I’m reading, and at night, they would populate my dreams, suffused with sadness.

Nirmala Sitaraman, Spokesperson, BJP

What role literature plays in the lives of politicians is difficult to guess, but what role it can play is clear. Literature throws light on human dynamics. Complex issues can be deconstructed and reframed. He subtle and the nuanced can be better appreciated throw the thoughts and experiences of the writers. Literature widens every canvas. Even the lone, often unheard voice, can be accessed through a drama or even a haiku. Literature can mellow even the toughest mind.

Derek O’ Brien, Rajya Sabha MP, TMC

I read a lot and find it difficult to identify just one book that has influenced or shaped me. Reading habits, reactions and the lessons you draw from book change as you evolve. In my teenage years, I found Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull very influential. .. a modern rendition of the Icarus legend: fly high, reach for the sky, but be careful the sun doesn’t singe you.

In my 20s, I devoured Ogilvy on Advertising, the Bible of the professions written by the master himself: David Ogilvy. His book spoke of not just selling an item with clever copy, but actually living a product.

Pinaki Mishra, MP, BIJU Janata Dal

The ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s were a rich period of Indian art, so I have a huge collection of books on (FN) Souza, for instance. Also, Hemen Majumdar and the Bengal School of Art.

I’m a big Wodehouse fan, too. It really does transport you into another world. An idyllic world. I always have a Wodehouse by my bedside table. You always find a Bertie Wooster in life wherever you go – someone who can blunder his way through life and come out smelling of roses. But it would be most impolite of me to mention the Wodehouse in public life! If I read 5-10 pages of Wodehouse at night, I invariably sleep much better.

Excerpts from the Indian magazine, Tehelka

 

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What Indian Politicians read (Part 1)

The article was published in the issue of January 30, 2013:

Why do we care what other people read? Reading is, after all, a solitary enterprise, done privately armchair, in bed, in a quiet corner in a coffeeshop.  But to read is also to have a conversation with the author, with other readers, other books, across centuries. We scour one another’s book shelves in search of like minds and a companionship. Our books, in a way, make us fully human to one another.

–          Editor of Tehelka, Shougat Dasgupta says

 I typed out these excerpts so that these are recorded and also reach the right minds from the January 2013 issue of Tehelka: Volume 10 (Issues 1 and 2). It is a journal of books read by our Country’s politicians. The list is vast. It varies from Premchand to Ayn Rand. From Rhonda Bryne to Lenin. From poetry to fiction. From Marxist principles to the Mahabharatha.

Laloo Prasad Yadav  prides “People must read me. I mustn’t read books”

while Shashi tharoor claims “The Godlessness in my writing comes from Mahabharatha.”

Each of them have a distinct taste and a book to which they owe a part of their personality.

Of the 84 politicians listed, few of the tastes I particularly liked:

Salman Kurshid, Minister of External Affairs, Congress

Serendipitously and fortunately, the books I have read have reinforced my instinct for liberalism and allowed for an easy synthesis of instinct and analysis. I have seldom been tempted, even in passing, to change my initial postulates and preferred positions, and this have not had to agonise over the implications of my beliefs. Yet, there have been times, particularly when I was younger, when Che Guevera’s diaries touched a chord. In my heart, then, I was a secret revolutionary, even as in my mind, intellectually, I remained a steadfast liberal!

Given this, perhaps, it will not surprise you to learn that in my first year at St’ Stephen’s College, I played a small role in the union production of Mario Fratti’s Che, directed by none other than Kapil Sibal (Minister of Information and Technology). There is a brilliant passage in the play in which Che soliloquises about why he was a communist, what made him so, so that all our contemporary Marxists should read.

Jaswant Singh, MP, BJP

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE reading and have devoted a significant part of my life to it. Bookworms will know what I mean when I say that it is difficult to choose a single book that sits above the rest. From a personal perspective, I enjoy variety. I like switching between different kinds of books at will, moving from poetry to biographies to world affairs.

If I were forced to pick a particular title or an author, I’d single out the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. He is magisterial and every single one of his books from The Age of the revolution to the Age of extremes is a revelation.

Syed Ali Shah Gilani, Chairman, Hurriyat Conference

Books are oxygen to me. As someone who has been under house arrest for three years, books have been my life support. I spend 5 hours reading every day. These days I am reading Tafsil-e-Quran, which gives you satisfaction and peace of mind, important for a person facing life’s ups and downs.

As my educated senior has pointed out, there was a typo in the original text. So the Tafsil-e-Quran is Tafseer-e-Quran.

On impact of words on their lives..

Meira Kumar, Lok Sabha Speaker, Congress

It is incredible what the impact of just few words can be. Words are all powerful. They can start a war or bring peace. I can finish you with my words, I can demoralize you or I can also take you out of your depression, inspire you.

The House is run is all about words. The aim of this great institution is that it the place where conflicting views are expressed. There are 38 parties in my House, all with different points of view.

It is words, the gift of language, which creates convergence where there appears to be only divergence. This is the basis of cooperation and progress.

Vasundhara Raje, MLA, BJP

I don’t mind being along now. I’m in Dholpur surrounded by trees, no people. Not watching TV that aggravates me. Even the newspapers never have anything good to offer. We are losing the ability to just let go and be happy. To sit in your garden with a book and experience the peaces that comes with it. It just feels so good.

.. to be cont’d

Please note: These are excerpts from the Indian Magazine, Tehelka

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Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

 

If you’ve been to sari shops.. no! not the ones that live in two-to-three storied buildings and have a manager waiting for you and then a couple of people inviting you to take a look at other things like stylish hair bands and bags.

 

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But the sari shops where there is a white mattress and you sit down and wait for the sari wala to show you the many sarees and or the “exact” color blouse material…not too pink or not too red.

Yes! the one where the owner knows you by your name and knows how to pamper the kids with different kinds of cool drinks or chocolates.

 

 Authored by Rupa Bajwa, Sari Shop is written from the point of view of Ramchand, a salesman at one such Sari Shop in Amritsar.

 

But the story doesn’t limit itself to the confines of a sari shop it meanders to the points of view of many a characters in the book. It is a fictional tale based in and around a sari shop based out of Amritsar.

 

The story starts with Ramchand’s lonely view of life from the window and introduces us to the old bazaars, lanes, roads, shops of Amritsar. Then it slowly takes us to the affluent houses and lifestyles.

 

After a thorough introduction of the locales, the characters in the book, the story slowly unfolds. It takes you through the story of many characters like the affluent Mrs. Gupta or the happy-go-lucky Hari with equal ease as the catastrophe-struck Dhabawala or the melancholic sari salesperson Chander or the rude owner of the Sari shop among many other characters without losing focus on the main character Ramchand, his lonely life, his struggle to learn English.

 

Apart from Ramchand, the other character which I wished would have been elaborated more was Kamla, melancholic Chander’s wife. And this is why:

 

Ramchand and Kamla

The character Ramchand leaves the safe haven and the warmth of his childhood at a young age. His parents die at a young age and he forced to live with his relatives. Due to many circumstances, he is forced to leave his relative’s home and fend for himself.

 

His safe life in his parent’s home and his mother’s love was beautifully defined.

 

Kamla faces similar atrocities during her childhood, although comforted in her youth for a brief while, she faces loneliness and finds pseudo-solace in alcohol consumption.

These two lives meet at a very interesting junction. 

 

Ramchand cautiously crept towards Kamla, shocked at the sight of a woman with a bottle in her hand. He had never before seen a woman drinking. He opened his mouth to address her, but stopped. It seemed stupid to call her Bhabhi. Bhabhis were decorous women who gave you tea, sometimes irritated you with a lot of information about their children and occasionally asked with sly smiles when you were planning to get married. This creature in a drunken stupor, staring with unseen eyes at the wall opposite-how should he address her?

 

 

When you google “Sari Shop novel” you will find pictures like these:

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but I think this is the best cover page that befits the book:

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The story comfortably shifts between the mind frames of diagonally opposite characters.

But at certainly places I felt she fit in the lives of people who were affected by the Operation Blue Star. For example, Ramchand befriend the Dhabawala whose children were accidently killed in the Operation Blue Star. Although the character appears at various junctures, it seemed like Rupa tried to pack a lot of things in one box. I wished she comes up with another book talking about such an important historical and political event that affected many lives.

 

However, the whole idea of talking about stories revolving around the sari shop without losing focus is an achievement in itself. 240 pages of a gripping read which take you into the class divide, the culture and the lives of a variety of people in Amritsar, vividly. 

 

I admired Rupa Bajwa’s for her efforts to speak of lives of the salesmen at Sari Shops whom we hardly acknowledge as people. I was curious to learn more about Rupa Bajwa as she wrote the novel painting the city, Amritsar with unknown colors and did not make the book dramatic. 

 

This was an interview excerpt in The Hindu that I liked and think described her simplicity and humbleness well. 

 

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About her book, The Sari shop, Sahitya Akademi Award winner and Commonwealth Writers  Prize among other prizes’ winner Rupa says:

 A very senior writer congratulated me about finding my voice, more than the success of the book. You write from experience, you write from what you feel.

 

As you grow, you are in flux, you are going through experiences, learning and unlearning things. I don’t see how that voice is a fixed thing. Yes, definitely the core of that voice is the same. But perhaps over the years you become tolerant towards certain things, learn and unlearn certain things. And that affects the writing. You cannot keep writing the same book again and again.

 

My connection with literature is just as much in my blood today as it was when The Sari Shop released. It’s never diminished. It’s just that I didn’t go to festivals and events and get-togethers.

 

Today, it’s become too important for authors to create a persona and project themselves in a certain way, wear certain clothes, have a trademark look. Recently, I ran into someone and I was dressed normally, in a salwar kameez with my hair tied back. The person told me I don’t look like an author.

 

Her love for literature

 

I didn’t study literature in college, but for me it was everything. It was a teacher, a friend, a companion. I was able to read some of the best books without knowing their snob value. I read books like Madame Bovary and The Red and the Black and House for Mr. Biswas and never knew anything about namedropping. All I felt was overwhelming love for those writers and characters. I have wept over Kafka. I’m a very personal reader I have a very emotional bond with everything I read. For me, there are no classics, children’s books etc. For me there are good books and bad books; books I like, books I don’t. That’s why I dislike the idea of sitting in a class with strangers and dissect writings and authors. I have to sit alone with a book. It’s a very personal thing.

 

Being a personal writer

 

I haven’t thought about it, but now that you ask, I suppose I am a personal writer too. It’s the only way I know. I cannot think of a plot, arrange characters and clinically create a book. I can’t do that. I couldn’t belt out books and cash in on the success and attention of The Sari Shop. When The Sari Shop came out, it was the critics who told me what the novel was about. I’m not even joking or being half funny here. While I’m writing, I write with the whole of me, not just with my brain. It’s all of me.

 

PS: The pictures are taken from The Hindu, The cover page from Barnes and Noble, Sari shop image: kimberlytaylorimages.com. 

Please contact me if you think any copyright is infringed.

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