|Politicians & Literature|
Rajeev Chandrasekhar | 49 | Karnataka
Rajya Sabha MP, Independent
AS A KID, war stories fascinated me. I’m, after all, the son of an air force officer. As a consequence, I have probably the world’s single largest collection of Commando comics. Also, Tintin and Asterix! As a child, I was a prolific reader and read through all of Enid Blyton’s books that children at my age did — The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. George from The Famous Five was my favourite because she was a rebel, the designated tomboy instead of the pretty girl. When I was slightly older, like so many other post-pubescent boys, I consumed Robert Ludlum and Alistair MacLean by the dozen.
Schooldays are often spent in alternative worlds; heroes are often fictional characters, figments of the imagination. It is only after school that you begin to look for heroes in the real world, people in everyday life who are inspirational figures. It was then that I began to read the biographies of men like Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon and Arun Khetarpal, both recipients of the Param Vir Chakra for their heroic exploits in the 1971 war against Pakistan. I also remember reading many slim volumes about these larger- than-life heroes. In this pantheon of military heroes is Major Shaitan Singh, who won his Param Vir Chakra in the 1962 war with the Chinese. Subhashini Vasanth’s Forever Forty, which includes her love letters to and from her husband Colonel Vasanth, is heartbreaking. Colonel Vasanth was killed in action in 2007, and posthumously received an Ashoka Chakra for his bravery.
Over the years, I find myself drawn to non-fiction, to biographies and history. John F Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage is the sort of book I love: short biographies of eight titanic figures in American history. I also hugely admire Stalingrad by Antony Beevor. I read a lot of history. I was inspired to read a book on England under Queen Elizabeth after watching Shekhar Kapur’s biopic and the BBC series, The Tudors.
My interest in biographies extends to the likes of Eric Clapton (my copy of his autobiography is autographed) and Eminem. There are people who have lived distinctive lives, whose successes and tribulations require character. I just finished reading Jonathan Dimbleby’s book on the Nazi General Erwin Rommel (‘Desert Fox’) and the dramatic North African campaign, arguably one of the key battles of World War II. If I make the mistake of starting a book at six in the evening, like I did with this one, then I stay up till five the next morning until it’s done.
As an entrepreneur, it’s both a responsibility and a choice to read books by other entrepreneurs. My first boss at Intel, Andy Grove, wrote a great book called Only the Paranoid Survive. I found Money Out of Thin Air, about Craig McCaw, inspirational. It was McCaw who started the cell phone revolution, and inspired me to get into the cellular business. Steve Jobs’ story is, of course, fascinating. But my book of choice is not the recent Walter Isaacson biography, it’s iCon, the unauthorised version written by Jeffrey S Young and William L Simon. I relate to Jobs because I had a troubled tenure as a telecom entrepreneur and had various falling-outs. When I sold my company, it gave me a second lease on life. I read iCon and, like all books that become personally important, it helped me through a fraught period, showing me that opportunity can emerge from despair.
Reading inspires me to write. I’m working on a book about my life, after I returned to India in 1991. It’s part biography and part the story of post-liberalisation India. I want to write about Delhi, our dysfunctional system, how people are eulogised in this country on the basis of totally superficial qualities because they succeed in manipulating the system. To read is to participate in an intelligent discourse. Books are the raw material with which we build intelligent societies. As reading becomes trivialised, and each successive generation finds other things to do with their time, you can see the effect on the quality of our national debate.
After I became an MP, I have been inclined to read on politics: essays by Churchill; and the best political reading of all, the Constituent Assembly debates when our Constitution was being written. Reading those leaves you with goosebumps, unlike today’s debates, which leave you needing earplugs.