Biographies constitute a fascinating genre of books and it is more so with autobiographies because in a biography, the author tends to idolise the protagonist and often places the latter on a pedestal whereas in an autobiography, the protagonist, when narrating conversations and discussions and even experiences and anecdotes, would think twice before glorifying himself due to the fear of the persons mentioned within the discussions or experiences contradicting him in public.
Advaniji's794-page volume has been topping the list of best-sellers for the past couple of months and makes for very interesting reading. Not only do we get an insight into his views, his life, his speeches but also accounts of his childhood, his fascination for cricket and movies. It seems likely that his daughter Pratibha has inherited this love for movies from her illustrious father.
The book begins with a beautiful collage presenting a sculpture piece from the Mohen-jo-daro era, the Independence Day celebrations and the exodus of refugees from Pakistan. Advaniji begins by saying that the Partition of India was a double tragedy for the Sindhis because in August 1947, Punjab and Bengal were in a different situations as they had their own land and a natural home for the uprooted Hindus, while Sindh was a part of Pakistan in its entirety. Advaniji says that had India possessed a more assertive leadership, it could have succeeded in annexing the Sindhi-majority districts into India and thus India'sborder would have stretched right up to the sacred Sindhu river, but ?sadly this did not happen.? He says on a more positive note that the Sindhis had to come and settle all over India, yet they reached heights of glory in different fields despite being displaced from their homeland.
The first part, titled ?An Unbreakable Bond: 1927-1947? contains only 47 pages and depicts his early life. Advaniji relates an interesting incident when, in 1947, he went to receive Guru Golwalkarji at the railway station. When he told Guruji that Acharya Kripalani, another Sindhi, too had arrived in Karachi a day earlier, a faint redness due to anger appeared on Guruji'sface and he asked scathingly, ?After losing Sindh, he has come to Sindh??
On August 5 Guruji addressed a huge rally of Hindus in Karachi and said that a calamity had befallen the motherland; that the country'sPartition was a sin; and those who were responsible for it would never be forgiven by the coming generations.
Advaniji was born on November 8, 1927 in Karachi and remembers fondly his childhood days with his parents, sister, grandparents and three aunts who showered their love on him. Advaniji was very fond of cinema, cricket and books. He was specially fascinated by Charles Dickens? A Tale of Two Cities and Alexander Dumas? The Three Musketeers. He became a Swayamsevak of the RSS at the age of 14. It was at this time that while listening to lectures by Shri Shyam Das and others that a desire arose for freeing India from the British yoke. His spirit of patriotism was aroused especially after reading Dennis Kinkaid'sThe Grand Rebel and books on Shivaji, the Maratha warrior. He says that among the other books it was Dale Carnegie'sHow to Win Friends and Influence People that left a lasting impact on his mind. He even quotes Carnegie for saying that if a man accepts an argument much against his will, then his view still remains what it was in the beginning.
The second section, opening with a collage of Balraj Madhok, camels in the desert and a palace in Rajasthan, talks of his family'smigration from Sindh to Rajasthan. He describes an incident regarding his stay in Chittor district where due to shortage of water he is forced to bathe in a baoli. Very reluctantly he jumps into the water and on coming to the top, finds to his horror hundreds of snakes swimming on the water surface, possibly ?disturbed by my swimming.?
He discusses his pain at Gandhiji'sassassination which he calls a ?sinful act? and the telegram he sent to the Sangh to observe ?the sad death of reverend Mahatmaji.? However he was jailed along with other Sangh leaders because as Advaniji says, ?Nehru could never overcome his personal prejudice against the RSS.?
The third section (1957-77) with photographs of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarji Desai against the Parliament as the backdrop, is devoted to Advaniji'sentry into national politics and receiving a salary of Rs 350 per month for working as a journalist for the Organiser weekly. He is extremely critical of Nehru's?starry-eyed? policy towards China and minces no words in criticising the Indian communists for their extra-territorial loyalty to China, both during the Sino-Indian war and after India'sdefeat. He talks of the joys of family life, particularly his wife Kamala whom he calls Annapurna for dishing meals for guests at the last moment. He joined the Delhi Metropolitan Council and talks of the influence of Deendayal Upadhyay on him. He describes Vajpayeeji'staking over the reins of the Jana Sangh (now called the Bharatiya Janata Party), his respect for Jayaprakash Narayan for his open-mindedness and horror at the declaration of Emergency which he calls ?a deception with the President, deception with the cabinet and deception with the public.?
The fourth section (1977-97) comprises information on the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party and his journey to Moscow as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. He talks of Rajiv Gandhi as ?Mr Clean?, about the loss suffered by BJP, the verdict in the Shah Bano case, his Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya among others. He also describes in detail NDA's?India Shining? campaign and the Gujarat riots following the burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, among the several ups and downs in the nation'slife.
The fifth section (1997-2007) describes the advent of a new era with the BJP government in power and opens with a photograph of Indian soldiers celebrating their victory in the Kargil War and the Pokhran nuclear test. He talks of the coalition government led by NDA and his appointment as Home Minister apart from his successful delegation of responsibility as Deputy Prime Minister. He expounds on the Kargil War and Operation Vijay, the Congress reaction to Kargil victory, Sonia Gandhi'sforeign origin, terrorist attack on Parliament, Pakistan'sproxy war and talks with the Hurriyat leaders. In Chapter 13 of this section he explains the reason for NDA'sdecision to hold the General Elections before the expiry of its term.
Though opinions may differ, but I found Chapter 14 describing his Pakistan trip as very enlightening. At a dinner organised in Islamabad, a guest asks Advaniji if he did not have to confront any discrimination in India for being born in Sindh and getting appointed Deputy Prime Minister despite being a mohajir, as Indians settling in Pakistan are called. Advaniji explains to him that not only him, even a Punjabi or a Bengali is accepted with open arms because of India'sculture of adopting a sympathetic and friendly attitude towards outsiders as also tolerance for the people of different religions, castes, language, ethnic group, etc. He talks extensively on the role of the BJP.
One may or may not agree with his views on what direction the BJP should take, but after reading this autobiography, one cannot help admiring and feeling inspired by his dedication to his aim?serving the country because that is his life. He could not have chosen a more apt title for his book than what he has given. Further one cannot help marvelling at the fact that such a voluminous book, using not very high grammage paper, could produce such good photographs and be so reasonably priced still.
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