|Politicians & Literature|
Kapil Sibal | 64 |Delhi
Minister of Communications & IT, Congress
IT IS ESSENTIAL for not just politicians but all human beings to read books. That said, I have to admit, I haven’t read fiction in years. I have always tried to make time for books, it is a passion, but when I read now, it is usually non-fiction, whether recent books about China, Charles Allen’s book on Ashoka, or books by Eric Hobsbawm.
I suppose my only explanation is that you read different things at different times in your life. When I was a child, for example, I read everything by Alexander Dumas — The Three Musketeers, that sort of thing. At that age you crave for adventure, you have impossible dreams and are excited about the future. Then you grow older, and the tragedy that is life starts to become apparent. So, Thomas Hardy became a great favourite of mine. And I have always loved the likes of Dickens and Dostoyevsky and lots of English poetry — Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Keats.
My favourite poet, though, is EE Cummings. He is a poet who I understand; he isn’t esoteric, as some poets are, for little reason other than to be esoteric. There is no better poet than Shakespeare because he deals with the stuff of ordinary life. You feel connected to his concerns, the great universal concerns of life. Underneath the particulars of those famous plays and sonnets are revelations about everyday emotion, everyday life. We understand Shakespeare even now because we feel the emotions that he articulates so beautifully.
But when it comes to Eliot, and say, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, you feel alienated and struggle to understand — at least, I, with my limited reading, fail to get it. “I grow old… I grow old / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” I mean, these are great lines, but what does it all mean? Your guess, your interpretation, is as good as mine.
I have written two books of poetry and, perhaps, there are more in the offing. Honestly, I believe my writing reflects my life and the experiences that have shaped my life, more than the books I have read. I don’t deny that the books he reads influence a writer’s style, but beyond style, a writer needs to search within himself. Thought, its essence, its intrinsic quality, is reflective, a purely personal act. Despite the demands of political life, I make sure to write every other day. I still read, not every day though.
I’m in the middle of Gurcharan Das’ latest book, India Grows at Night and I enjoyed The Difficulty of Being Good, his insights into the Mahabharata, and the nuance he brings to his arguments. Das is a very thoughtful writer and I enjoy his quick, easy style. I have also enjoyed reading Meghnad Desai, of late.
And there are those books you forget, whole volumes from which you retain just thin slices. For instance, I recently read a fascinating book on war and technology, the title of which I just cannot recall. It dealt with the effect of, say, our ignorance of the laws of gravity on our use of weapons such as bows and arrows or early cannons. Scientific discovery goes hand in hand with military success, and societies that have created an environment or made those discoveries in which science flourishes, have tended to triumph over technologically backward societies.
I must also confess a soft spot for racy airport thrillers, for the likes of Robert Ludlum and Jeffrey Archer. There was a time when I never missed the latest Archer release. It’s pure entertainment, an escape from reality.
Ultimately, though, bibliophile or not, I think the impact of books is limited. Yes, books can be revelatory and make you wiser. But, frankly, I’m inspired by action, the action of those who led our freedom struggle. As much as I love books, I cannot say that any one book, or set of books, has influenced or inspired me as much as the example set by Gandhi. I think the founders of our nation were inspirational; India was an inspiring country. Leaders of that stature aren’t around today, indeed, weren’t much in evidence historically either. We were lucky.