|Politicians & Literature|
Azam Khan | 64 | Uttar Pradesh
Urban Development Minister, SP
AFTER FOUR DECADES in public life, I’m enough of a politician to know not to court controversy by naming particular books and authors. Suffice it to say that I enjoy reading books that go back a century or more, novels that show you that however much technology changes, the tools available to us, the human impulses, remain the same. We wish ill upon others and perpetuate injustice in the same ways our ancestors did and their ancestors did as well.
The books you read are personal. A list of books peculiar to me might not resonate with you because there are so many little-known books that, for various personal reasons, make a lasting impression. Certainly, some of the books I remember most fondly have little contemporary relevance.
But Ghubar-e-khatir (Sallies of the Mind), by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of independent India, is one of the greatest books ever written in Urdu. If you read it, there’s almost no need to read any other book. It is the last of the Maulana’s writings, and while his earlier work dealt with religion and politics, here he spreads his wings, combating the solitude of political imprisonment by sharing his innermost thoughts with readers. It is a book that manages to be both delightful to read and deeply educative.
I have also admired the writing of the freedom fighter Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar. He didn’t write books, but his articles and editorials are powerful and stirring. Then there are the great Urdu poets — Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, Daag Dehlvi, Mirza Rafi Sauda, Sahir Ludhianvi and so on. The last, Sahir Ludhianvi, is a particular favourite. He wrote about common people and the daily struggle of their lives.
At Aligarh Muslim University, I studied Hindi literature and then law. Political philosophy, whether by Marx, Lenin or Ram Manohar Lohia, made less impact on me than the religious scriptures from across the world. I still make the time to read, usually every night before I go to bed. In Rampur, my hometown, or Lucknow, or anywhere really, I rarely read outside of bed. The sad truth is, politics leaves little time for reading and the reading you do is mostly confined to newspapers.
The important thing about reading is the challenge. There is an oppositional quality. You must read the opinions and thoughts of your political enemies in order to engage with them. And that is a crucial life lesson.