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."