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Snapshots From A Trashcan

There are no dearth of ego-inflating and self-puff hagiographies in the Indian book bazaar

Snapshots From A Trashcan
Snapshots From A Trashcan
If biographies are hard to come by, not so the self-puff trash with ego-inflating titles—NTR: The Only One, J.H. Patel: A Person Extraordinaire, Multi-Faceted Urs—which have become a thriving industry. Leaders with the means to grant favours never lack for admiring biographers and others anxious not to be left out in the race to posterity can always hire an author. Lakshmi Parvati, of course, is a notorious example of using biography as a line to NTR's life and throne. Her biography, incidentally, never got written, but it served its purpose. Other persistent vanity-chroniclers may have gone unread, but not unrewarded—Calcutta University academician Surabhi Banerjee, who produced an "authorised" biography of Jyoti Basu, was panned by critics but is now pro vice-chancellor.

Bengal's former CM, who publicly deprecates all such tributes to an individual, is arguably the most biographed leader today: five books and a film. Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee trails behind. But he's catching up: another biography or two is in the offing. These are works of voluntary labour, but Jaffer Sharief got "a hired author" to pen his suitably censored and airbrushed version of his lifestory. J.H. Patel roped in a journalist for his race to immortality. His biographer Chandrashekhar Thoudoor is still overawed by the privilege. A sample: "Patel has digested the truth of life. In his company, I had found new definitions to life."

So profitable is the hagiography industry that even politicians are jumping in. Telugu Desam MP Umareddy Venkateswarlu, for instance, recently impressed Chandrababu Naidu with a memoir-tribute. Neither reality nor credibility is allowed to besmirch these brazen works of sycophancy. Transporter-editor Shekhar Basu Roy's compilation of essays and messages on Jyoti Basu contains this alliterative, if mortal, line: "Jyotibabu's mother must have a mental vision that her son will glitter, glow and shine like light."

Immortalising J. Jayalalitha, however, is a more difficult proposition—not because of lack of willing memoirists, but because of Amma's uncertain temper on the subject. Only one biographer, P.C. Ganesan, has dared but with more caution than detail. MGR, of course, has spawned a rash of hagiographies. So, as long as there's love and longing (for favours) no leader need go without a biography.

With Ashis K. Biswas, B.R. Srikanth and M.S. Shanker

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