Books, considered old-fashioned, held their own in the world of 2017
The hero in the eyes of the hero
Narendra Damodardas Modi: The Making of a Legend
By Dr Bindeshwar Pathak
Publisher: Sulabh International Social Service Organisation
The coffee-table book, with rare photographs running through it all along with the text about Prime Minister Narendra Modi called “Narendra Damodardas Modi: The Making of a Legend” by the founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, was launched by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah in New Delhi on July 12, 2017.
Dr Pathak said that he was inspired to do the book about the prime minister because Shri Modi was the first national leader who had recognized the importance of sanitation, the construction of toilets and ending open defecation, and it is something which he had been working on for more than 40 years. Dr Pathak felt that there was a need to tell the life-story of Shri Modi. He also recalled that he had first met Shri Modi in Bhuj in Gujarat where Sulabh had built a sanitation complex after the earthquake that razed much of the town to the ground.
He approached the writing of the pictorial biography in a unique way. He had a research team in place, which went about gathering the photographs because he said he wanted the book on Shri Modi to be different from the many that had been written on the prime minister. He had decided to produce the book in a lavish manner so that it was a fitting tribute to the man who was the subject of the book. It was also intended to get the book distributed among a larger number of people.
It was evident that the special bonding that Dr Pathak felt with Prime Minister Modi was this personal passion and mission with regard to sanitation. The Prime Minister had targeted 2019, which marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and who was also a strong believer in sanitation and removing the scourge of human scavengers, to eliminate the human scavenging, to end open defecation and to provide latrines in city, town and village for the whole population in the country. It is a mission that Dr Pathak had set for himself from the 1970s onwards, and thus there was a convergence of goals and ideals that Shri Modi had articulated as well.
The book was at one level a personal tribute of Dr Pathak for Prime Minister Modi. But it was not a mere act of hero worship. The author of the pictorial biography and its subject shared a personal vision about sanitation in the country and that was the main inspiration for Dr Pathak to have undertaken the book project.
Pranab’s last lap in politics
The Coalition Years
By Pranab Mukherjee
Publisher: Rupa; Rs 595
Former president Pranab Mukherjee’s third volume of memoirs, which was released in on October 13, 2017 at a high-profile event at the auditorium of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in New Delhi, is an interesting account of the period which spanned the years when the Congress Party was in opposition between 1996 and 2004, and when it came into power in 2004 after a break of eight years, and it had won the election in 2009. Mr Mukherjee’s personal account of developments in the political sphere during these years is interesting and gives an insider’s view of the issues and the people in high places involved in it. He was one of the prominent and vocal members of the party in Rajya Sabha when in Opposition in the years between 1996 and 2004, and he played a key role in the Congress government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the Minister for Defence, as External Affairs Minister and as Finance Minister before he was the party’s candidate for the post of the President of India in 2012. The veteran Congress leader had won the respect of leaders from across the political spectrum despite the fact that he had strong views of his own and his short temper became legendary among his political colleagues. But everyone respected Mr Mukherjee for his learning – he is a voracious reader despite the time constraints of a busy political career – and his clarity of thought.
Speaking at the book launch, former prime minister Manmohan Singh remarked that he fell back on the advice of Mr Mukherjee on all difficult and key policy issues in the government. At one point, Dr Singh made the revelatory remark that Mr Mukherjee must have felt that he was more qualified to be the prime minister but he (Singh) had no choice in the matter because it was Congress president Sonia Gandhi who had decided that he (Singh) should be the prime minister. Despite the apparent personal rivalry, it was evident that Mr Mukherjee and Dr Singh had immense respect for each other and it becomes evident in the book that they were able to pull together over the years because of the professional regard each had for the other.
Mr Mukherjee was candid enough to admit at the book launch that his was a personal account and that he was not writing like a historian, thus emphasizing that what comes through in the book is his personal view of events and people.
It is rare for Indian politicians to write books, especially in post-Independence period, though all the tall political leaders of the Freedom Movement were writers in their own right and they were also passionate readers of books.
Rajan’s worldview: Banker and Economist
I Do What I Do
By Raghuram Rajan
Publisher: HarperCollins; Rs 699
Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan’s book makes for a delightful read though it is not a fresh account of his years as the chief of the central bank. The book is a compilation of speeches he delivered in his capacity as the Governor of RBI, explaining policy decisions and giving a perspective on monetary policy, which is not much understood by the people at large, including politicians. Rajan, an academic who belongs to the reputed Chicago University where there are more Economics Nobel laureates than in any other institution, plays the role of a teacher as well, explaining things clearly combined with wit and humour. He is also considered one of the finest economic minds in the world, and he commands immense respect of his peers. These are not then dry-as-dust policy speeches. About being appointed Governor of the RBI, he writes, “Putting a policy economist in the Governor’s job is like letting a kid loose in a candy shop!”
He confesses that most of his speeches and articles are responses to critics and it is an attempt to clarify matters and give the full picture. To this extent, reading of the book should be a learning experience for the young and the old as well. Rajan notes his cordial relations with the prime ministers Singh and Modi and finance ministers Chidambaram and Arun Jaitley. He writes, “While I enjoyed a good understanding with the political leadership – meeting regularly and cordially first with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Chidambaram, and then when the government changed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Jaitley – and while some bureaucrats were a delight to work with, the least pleasant aspect of my job was dealing with bureaucrats who were trying to undercut the Reserve Bank so as to expand their turf.”
Much talked novel
Ministry of Utmost Happiness
By Arundhati Roy
Penguin India; Rs 599
Arundhati Roy became the most popular writer of fiction when her debut book, The God of Small Things won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997. She did not write another work of fiction until 2017, when her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was released. Though there were great expectations that her second novel would be as exciting as her first one, the readers and critics were not much enthused by her latest fictional offering. The disappointment seemed to arise from the fact that this time round, Roy wrote a complicated story and she was more focused on the symbolism rather than the story itself, which is in direct contrast to her first work. What captivated readers of her first books was the delightful story, however quirky it was in its plot and in its narrative. There was a certain freshness and vibrancy in the first book that was missing in the second. It is not unusual that when the expectations are a little too high as in the case of Roy, it is difficult for any author to meet those expectations.
Many of Roy’s readers who had liked her first novel felt that she had strayed too much into polemical essays and in doign so she had lost the imaginative writer’s sensibility to tell a story.
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