In his colourful autobiography Vita, meaning ‘life’, the Italian Renaissance sculptor-goldsmith-soldier-musician Benvenuto Cellini had decreed wisely: “No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty.” That was in 1558, as Cellini inched towards age 60.
Circa 2014, age be damned. Under-19 star and Delhi Daredevil Unmukt Chand is only 20 but seems to have enough material to pen a memoir that declares The Sky is the Limit. Rahul Dravid’s presence at its launch late last year lent to it the necessary gravitas, and therefore a huge media crowd.
At 40, and an inglorious year-and-a-half into chief ministership, Akhilesh Yadav already has a 561-page biography on him. Winds of Change, written by senior journalist Sunita Aron, was commissioned soon after the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, which Mulayam’s son won handsomely off Mayawati. Wasn’t it a bit premature to treat him as ‘biography material’, given the current lawlessness in the state and the blot of the Muzaffarnagar riots? “Most of the controversies plagued the UP government after the book had hit the stands,” says Aron. “I may add a few chapters after his innings is over, if the publishers agree.” The book has been published by Tranquebar.
Take no prisoners In which Pappu Yadav tells “his side of the story”. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
It was more than a literary bug, though, that bit former Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Pappu Yadav. His autobiography Drohkal ka Pathik just aims to set the record straight on political events, never mind if BJP leader Arun Jaitley reportedly quipped, “I am surprised that even he can write a book.” And though he is said to be putting the past behind him (namely his being expelled from the party), the Patna ‘bahubali’ couldn’t resist a sideways jibe at Laloo when, as evidence of his growing clout, he excerpted a magazine article comparing the wedding of his sister to Laloo’s daughter’s wedding. While Laloo reportedly failed to get the likes of Shahrukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan in attendance as he had claimed he would, Pappu Yadav’s supposed clout brought stars such as Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Raju Srivastava, Chunky Pandey and Udit Narayan to Patna.
Plenty others have discovered books within themselves, and themselves as the best subject of their books. The jury is still out on whether socialite Bina Ramani’s new memoir Birds in a Banyan Tree is a vehicle to once again protest her innocence in the Jessica Lall murder case or simply an exercise in self-indulgence. She was all ready to marry Shammi Kapoor, we learn, except that “Raj-ji’s conservative streak” and her parents’ reservations about the film star’s “alcoholic” and “womanising” ways got in the way.
Winners of the universe Sushmita Sen releases Mary Kom’s autobiography
But save the sneers. “There’s always been a good market for biographies and autobiographies in India,” says Udayan Mitra, publisher, Allen Lane and Portfolio, Penguin Books India. “And with the international success of books like Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs or David Maraniss on Obama, the market has only got better.”
There is a new interest in telling personal stories, HarperCollins chief editor V. Karthika feels, and less reluctance in revealing controversial, possibly intimate, bits from their lives. Former actress-singer Suchitra Krishnamoorthi made a feeble attempt to reignite the limelight that once surrounded her when, in her tell-all tale Drama Queen last year, she regaled how she once texted Ram Gopal Verma with a marriage proposal.
The people whose stories readers may enjoy reading have so far predictably included politicians, sportsmen, actors and industrialists. That scope seems to be expanding now. “We’re looking at biographies of figures that are hardly written about but whose lives invoke an era that needs to be recorded. On our list are biographies of Urdu poet-writer Firaq Gorakhpuri, Sachin Tendulkar’s coach Ramakant Achrekar and freedom fighter A.C.N. Nambiar,” says Roli Books editorial director Priya Kapoor.
Corporate biographies are the biggest sellers, yes, but some publishers are looking at expanding young readership, and therefore hooking young stars even as they get into their groove. “The idea to get Unmukt to write was the proverbial ‘catch ’em young’. He is a well-educated, articulate young man, he definitely had a book in him. A plus was that he had kept a detailed diary from very early on. Unmukt’s book has been published under our Young Adults imprint Inked—speaking to a target audience of young readers. We had also published Saina Nehwal’s autobiography under the same imprint,” adds Mitra.
On having biographies on such young stars, and on whether the decision requires careful deliberation, Tranquebar managing editor Sudha Sadhanand believes popular figures like Dhoni, Saina Nehwal are undoubtedly icons and for each there are layers of stories; challenges, joys, grit and life as a star. “It’s most riveting to know what makes them stars despite challenges,” she says.
And cricketers always make good reading. So even as erstwhile U-19er, Royal Challenger and cricketing superstar Virat Kohli endorsed the cover of Unmukt’s book, hailing him as “a very special player”, he himself had a book written on him, Reliable Rebel by Ayaz Memon and C. Rajshekhar Rao. On the challenge of writing a book on a current cricketer, veteran biographer Gulu Ezekiel says: “There’s so much cricket played round the year that it’s already dated by the time it hits the stands.”
Be it politicians or entertainers flashing winning smiles on the covers of these books, the mood out there seems to “Popular face? Will sell.” Add a sprinkling of controversy, a dash of hardship and oodles of inspiring anecdotes, and you may well have a winner on your hands. The young ’uns, too, seem to have got the formula down pat. A new chapter in the lives of biographies may well have begun, one that looks like it may have many more twists and turns ahead.
The Memoir Rush
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Today I got some new and awesome collection of books like Unmukt Chand book (I really like him because he won the under 19 world cup), Raghu Book (Because he is the founder of Rodies).
Thanks for sharing such a nice collation. I am finding something more. I will also share these books at
discussion board where I have lots of friends.
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