ASHISH Bose’s Headcount consists of “random pieces of writing on several episodes” about his personal and professional lives, which include his interaction with some known leaders and personalities of his time.
The personal pieces are about his childhood and schooling in Kolhapur, his brief stint in Asansol, where he witnessed a Hindu-Muslim riot, his studies in Allahabad University, where he savoured the city and its Kumbh Melas, his Ph D work under VKRV Rao in Delhi, where, in the company of his uncle, who was a minister in the government, he also met and befriended several important people.
Bose writes extensively about the conferences he attended as a population expert in several parts of the world, including the one hosted by Imelda Marcos. He also writes warmly about his meetings with JRD Tata, who had a clear understanding of the economic and political problems of the country. Two incidents that posed a direct threat to his life are truly dramatic. In Bangla Desh he becomes sick after eating a fish to which he was allergic, and is saved by Dr Zafrullah Choudhury. When a bull dies after hitting the car in which was travelling with a friend in the middle of the night in some jungle, he is besieged and threatened by angry villagers, and saved by a sadhu who appears virtually from nowhere.
Bose writes about his encounters with politicians with remarkable candour. We find that Nehru likes addressing only big gatherings and loves Sikh jokes. As Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi is polite and charming, but turns tough when she comes to power, and becomes quite repulsive during the Emergency. We also get to know the boorishness of Sanjay, the diplomatic successes of Vajpayee, the buffoonery of Raj Narian, and the quiet charm of Rajiv Gandhi.
Bose writes well and takes pride in being honest about expressing his feelings. Except for occasional patches of boring details, his account is quite readable.
(Penguin Viking, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)