|Politicians & Literature|
Nirmala Sitaraman | 53 | Tamil Nadu
WHAT ROLE LITERATURE plays in the lives of politicians is difficult to guess, but what role it can play is clear. Literature throws light on human dynamics. Complex issues can be deconstructed and reframed. The subtle and the nuanced can be better appreciated through the thoughts and experiences of the writers. Literature can widen every canvas. Even the lone, often unheard voice, can be accessed through a drama or even through haiku. Literature can mellow even the toughest mind.
One writer who has been an inspiration to me is Somerset Maugham, and I count Of Human Bondage, The Summing Up and South Sea Stories as some of my favourites. In each of these books, Maugham captures the complex emotions influencing the conduct of his protagonists. Emotions, the resultant stress, the handling of it are all delicately woven into his narrative. The shaping of characters, human conduct and the frailty of life itself are best evoked by Maugham.
I was introduced to George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra by my maternal uncle, who served as a mentor during my formative years. The five-act play was my first experience reading drama, and even though I read it in my final year of school, it remains a favourite even today. I also loved Albert Camus’ clinical analysis of the human mind in The Exile and The Plague.
Books have been an important resource for me to help understand my own country. Sudhir Kakar’s India Analysed, for instance, is a psychoanalytical account rarely available about India, told through a conversation between Kakar and the Iranian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo. Gurcharan Das’ India Unbound and India Grows at Night are discursive and full of ideas that can be picked up for a serious churning of thoughts. Subhash Kak’s The Wishing Tree: The Presence and Promise of India is another fascinating book.
As a politician, the Constitution is essential reading, and The Munshi Papers, a two-volume book by Constituent Assembly member KM Munshi, tracing the creation of that extraordinary document, is an excellent route to approach it. The period immediately after Independence, an era that determined what sort of nation we would eventually become, is also described vividly in Satyameva Jayate, a collection of articles by C Rajagopalachari. The book presents a contemporaneous running narrative going well against the then socialist reinforcements happening in the country. The accounts of a visionary, who saw money power emasculating elections, and desired minimum government and maximum governance are instructive even today.
As citizens, we worry about whether there are any solutions to the festering issues that hamper our efforts to build a better India for all. Fali S Nariman, in his excellent book India’s Legal System: Can it be Saved? so clearly identifies where these hurdles lie, where the disconnect prevail and explains the grey areas, with examples. It is for us at every step, to carefully and conscientiously remove centuriesold moulds that have grown into the system. Updating our laws and keeping them abreast of the requirements of our times is an important responsibility on us.
I’m also drawn to the life stories of people who shaped this world, and John Canning’s 100 Great Modern Lives was a great starting point. The lives of eminent personalities such as the Buddha, Aristotle, Martin Luther King Jr and many more are so well narrated here. The messages from each are so timeless and sans frontiers that they ceaselessly waft in ones’ mind. I also loved Dale Carnegie’s The Unknown Lincoln, which shows how, despite all the trials and personal tribulations, Abraham Lincoln trudged along. His motivation to carry on with what he wanted to do, did not dim at all. His personal life, a daily roller coaster, was kept at home. He had ideas that were challenged by powerful people. Nothing deterred him. His commitment, dedication and belief in the ideas he was taking forward was all that mattered to him.