|Politicians & Literature|
Mehbooba Mufti | 53 | J&K
I STARTED out with comic strips; the Phantom and Archie series were my favourites. During my youth, what shaped my imagination were books by Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland, and of course, the Mills & Boon imprint. Despite my father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, being a leading politician in this country, I never imagined I would get involved in politics. When eventually I did, books certainly played no conscious part in my decision. It was fundamentally my grounding in a political family that prepared me for the challenge of politics.
I joined my father’s Congress party in 1995 and won the Assembly poll from Bijbehara in 1996. But then, I felt I could contribute more productively through a regional party whose politics is primarily geared to address the specific problems and needs of Kashmir. This is how we founded the People’s Democratic Party in 1998.
Joining politics was what diversified my reading. I went on to read political biographies, fiction and even religious literature. One book stood out among the lot — Katherine Frank’s biography of Indira Gandhi. Well-researched and exhaustive, Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi gave me an insight into the life and the making of one of India’s preeminent leaders. Books are a potent influence on the mind, and this one certainly contributed to my evolution.
Kashmir in the 1990s was shaky and turbulent and politically treacherous. It took a lot of courage and foresight to form a new party. It was the ideas I imbibed from the greats in Russian literature — Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky — that prepared me for those times. Since then, being a party leader has kept me frightfully busy, though I do manage to squeeze in some time for reading.
If there is one book that has moved me intensely, it was Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. It is a chilling account of what Afghanistan and its people have gone through, with the supposed Islam the Taliban brought to the country. But what engrossed me was how my homeland was reflected in the tribulations of Afghanis. The heart-rending story of brutalised children brought to mind Kashmir’s orphans.
Recently, I have taken to reading fiction and religious literature, such as Prophet Mohammed’s biographies by Karen Armstrong and the writings of spiritual leader Deepak Chopra, especially Buddha. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, these accounts remind me that life has a larger purpose, which we tend to forget. And the deeper quest is one I want to undertake. I look for this meaning in my work. I found a certain spiritual fulfilment in Sufi thought. Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love is one of the best books I have read on Sufism. The book takes you through the poetry of Rumi and the relationship between him and his mentor, Shams of Tabriz. I now look forward to reading Muslim Saints and Mystics by Farid al-Din Attar, one of Iran’s greatest poets.
Politics offers you a direct vantage point on the working of a society that, perhaps, few other professions do. But books act as a window on the experiences, ideas and opinions that you will never encounter if you didn’t read. And that is why it is imperative that politicians never abandon books.