When a common or garden reviewer is confronted with a book that is laden with the most lavish commendations, the dilemma of how to review it becomes manifest. If one praises it, one runs the risk of being accused of just paraphrasing the blurbs: “thoughtful, stylistic, perceptive” (Jagdish Bhagwati); “must read…to understand the critical intersections of politics and public policy” (Manish Tewari) etc. If, on the other hand, the reviewer carps and criticises, one runs the risk of crossing a galaxy of distinguished persons. Nevertheless, here goes.
My first huge disappointment was that this is not the autobiography I thought it would be. It is a collection of columns. When I first took a bunch of my columns to Penguin in 1990—a year after I had started writing them—the sage David Davidar shook his head and said, “Books of columns do not work”. As I have since discovered, David was spot on: books of columns do not work, for they are written in the spirit of the moment. Both writer and reader are caught up—albeit sometimes on opposite sides—in that moment of time when nothing else seems as important, but time is cruel and what seemed overwhelming then is consigned to the trivia of the past.