|Politicians & Literature|
Deepender Hooda | 34 |Haryana
MY READING HAS always been eclectic. I read to know more about the world. I have never confined my reading to a particular subject or an author. For example, just last summer, I read The Selfish Gene. It’s a great book, an important book, and made quite an impact on me. I followed that up with Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi for his neutral, historical perspective. Reading something like that tempers your own views and gives you balance. I love reading Arundhati Roy, even though I don’t agree with, or believe in, her much. You can still call me her fan. I think of her work as political poetry.
Of course, great stories have the power to alter the way you see the world. I still remember reading Animal Farm by George Orwell when I was very young. It seems like a slight book, a child’s book, but it opened my eyes to politics. When I was much older, reading Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence had a similar effect, opening my eyes to the benefits and accompanying evils of capitalism. It’s a great narrative, telling the story of the American boom at the end of the last century. He was, of course, at the heart of that boom and his opinion on what worked, and what ultimately failed, is instructive. It’s one of those books that elevates the reader.
Even when I was pursuing my engineering degree, I made the time to read as widely as I could. The subjects I have always read most widely have been history, economics and politics. Sometimes, I become consumed by a particular subject and read up on it as much as I can. Last year, for a while, I was reading everything I could on Kashmir. Then it was biology and evolution. I cannot recommend The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner enough. This was also when I read Dawkins. At another point, I was reading obsessively about the American Civil War.
Currently, I’m reading a book about Genghis Khan, probably, the greatest conqueror in human history. There was a time, strangely, in modern Mongolian history when Genghis Khan was neglected. They were ignoring a glorious past, and Mongolians were forgetting just how much he achieved. And then, naturally, I have read as much as I can about Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda; about the last half-century of Afghan politics, the rise of the Mujahideen, the Soviet occupation and the role of the CIA. It’s important from an Indian point of view to understand Afghanistan, the ethnic divisions that shape its politics.
And then there’s Pakistan. I think Stephen Cohen’s The Idea of Pakistan is excellent, as is MJ Akbar’s Tinderbox. Incidentally, Akbar’s book on Kashmir, Behind the Vale, according to me, provides the best contemporary analysis of the past, present and possible future of Kashmir. I say this even though I don’t share Akbar’s political leanings.
I know that I’m all over the map, but that’s just the kind of reader I’m. If I go a few days without reading, I start to feel stupid. I try and make time to read every day, even if it is for as little as 15 minutes. Reading is essential for me because I’m always curious, always hungry to acquire knowledge. To read extensively is to seek, to understand the world, its patterns. This is why politicians, as much as anyone, need to read.