THE INDIAN MIND is not fertile soil for autobiographies. That may sound strange in a country that has produced some historically significant autobiographies—Gandhi’s, Nehru’s, Nirad Chaudhuri’s and Paramahansa Yogananda’s perennial bestseller, Autobiography of a Yogi. But exceptions do not invalidate the general rule: We still have not developed a mature, professional understanding of the genre of autobiographies, or biographies for that matter.
Most autobiographies fall into the I-was-right category, especially those written by military brass like BM Kaul and politicians like Morarji Desai. Reverse ego prevented those with a story to tell from telling it, like Achyut Patwardhan and other heroes of the 1942 movement. Some kind of false modesty—or is it fear of the unknown?—stopped the captains of industry not only from writing autobiographies but also from allowing professionals to write credible biographies. Then we have the gentlemen writers, especially of the diplomatic kind, who write many things without saying anything. Peruse, if you have the patience, KPS Menon’s Many Worlds.
Fali Nariman and Ashish Bose come into this rather parched landscape with a pail of water. The experiences of one as a pre-eminent lawyer and of the other as a pioneering demographer have been extraordinary. Fortunately for the reader both have a disposition to freely share what they have learned from their lives.
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