|Politicians & Literature
Sajjad Gani Lone | 45 | J&K
Chairman, People’s Conference
BOOKS HAVE BEEN my cherished companions for the past two decades. I started with non-fiction and have moved on to fiction, which might seem counterintuitive to some. Reading non-fiction is certainly instructive, helping to build up knowledge. Many autobiographies are utterly inspirati- onal. But it is fiction that I love. It is a great leveller. Readers, through the books they choose to read, are afforded the luxury of donning and discarding roles. We are all wanderers, wandering in worlds within worlds. Inherent in fiction is gradualness, as opposed to abruptness. It allows the space to slip, at your own pace, into a new plot, a new world and new contexts.
I firmly believe that perfect fiction rarely exists, or perhaps cannot exist. Fiction is an exaggerated, spiced-up version of reality. The great thing about fiction is that what the writer writes is rarely what the reader reads. And, of course, each reader might as well be reading a different book — so vastly do their individual interpretations often differ. The state of mind of the readers, their particular circumstances and a host of other factors shape these interpretations. An excellent novel — and really, only a novel, is spacious enough to do this — emerges from deep within the facets of ordinary life, while transcending it at the same time.
My life has been deeply impacted by certain books. Reading Khalid Hosseini left me sad and disturbed for days. His depiction of pain, gender inequality and ethnic supremacy is heart-rending. He somehow succeeds in portraying not just the quotidian miseries of life, but lifetimes of misery. I visualise the characters in his novels while I’m reading, and at night, they would populate my dreams, suffused with sadness.
Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, so revelatory about the timelessness of conflicts, is another book that haunts my dreams. Its depiction of Turkey a few centuries ago is so similar to the Kashmir of today. The conflict between radical Islam and moderate Islam is so relevant in Kashmir right now. Having lived through that conflict, the first thing that came to my mind as a reader was the irresolvable and intractable nature of some of the problems that confront us. Will they ever end?
Another book I want to mention is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I remember, I had contested the parliamentary elections and lost. A public defeat on your debut can be very disheartening. I was dejected and depressed, and decided to leave Kashmir for some time. I was in Delhi when I began to read The Alchemist. I read it in one sitting, and vividly recall placing the book on the floor, after I had finished, and going into a sort of trance of deep thought. I became convinced that my defeat was imperative, a necessary condition for moving on in public life. Defeat would become as important a milestone to me as victory. A book taught me that equanimity.
I would recommend reading for all, especially those of us who are in public life. It is truly a luxury to be able to read. Politicians cannot avoid being caught up in the mean, often venal, world of politics. Books are the perfect release valve. Depending on what a politician reads and how it is interpreted, reading can be the armour that protects the last vestiges of a politician’s humanity. I’m currently reading Pamuk’s Istanbul. It is wonderful and, again, only a book could enable me to visit the magnificent city of Istanbul and an entirely different era, every night, without leaving my own home.