On Autobiographies


I am a sucker for autobiographies,biographies and memoirs and that’s because am incurably inquisitive by nature. I just have to set my eyes on any such book  and it would find its way into my bag sometimes at the cost of more important and emergency items.

I love reading about people and their lives, the experience of reading an autobiography is all consuming and most often leaves a deep impact on my psyche.
As far as I remember, the very first one which I read was MK Gandhi’s,”The story of My Experiments with truth”,I read it in preparation for the Sewagram Medical Entrance, way back in 1985 . After my first brush with it I have re read it several times and have given away a number of copies as gifts to my students , it remains one of the best and most inspiring autobiographies ever.

One must have absolute guts to write an autobiography, the honesty to lay bare one’s soul is not everybody’s cup of tea….

Shobha De, a renowned writer and socialite opted to write a memoir,a format in which one can afford the luxury of conveniently skipping the uncomfortable events in one’s life…”Selective Memory” is very interesting and provides the inside view of the working of the modelling world and the notorious film industry.The gossips, the love affairs, the real faces behind the paint ,the tragedies, the casting couch stories are the highlights in addition to De’s unique style of narration,a sprinkling mix of Hindi and English, her very own brand of “Hinglish”.

Reading an autobiography is like inhabiting the world of the narrator and being taken along on a personal tour.

The most entertaining autobiography remains that of Khushwant Singh’s ,”Truth,Love and a little Malice,” it is simply irresistible.Khushwant was close to the Nehru family and many dramatic scenes at Indira Gandhi’s home, his own friendships and relationships with women reveal a much deeper depth in character than he bothered to display…

The list could go on…..

Autobiographies of Nayantara Sahgal’s “Prison and Chcolate Cake”,Padamsee Alyque’s , “Double Life”. and many many more which have had a lasting impact on my mind . Who can forget,”Wings of Fire”, the story of the man who won the heart of the nation during his tenure as the President of India..Abdul Kalam.

Kamala Das ‘s autobiography,” My Story” when released attracted a lot of flak, it was accused of cheap sensationalism to earn quick money by the conservative community for detailing her most intimate details.

In recent times I read Naseeruddin Shah’s and the one book which triggered my mind to write this piece is the one which I completed reading a short while ago…a biography. ” My name is Abu Salem” by Hussain Zaidi…is simply gripping and reveals the dark side of human nature…the psyche of the Mafia…the workings of the underworld….the extremes of human nature.

“Unladylike” by Radhika Vaz , a stand up comedian in the US and an Indian by origin, is a great read and effectively brings out the various nuances of a society and its hypocrisies towards women.It stands out for its refined sarcasm and is certainly a class apart.

“Unusual”, is another unusual story of Anu Aggarwal a leading model and a top notch actress of her time, who gave it all up to embrace the life of a nun and retire to the Himalayas.S he comes across as one of a kind of a unique breed of women.

“Love loss and what we ate “is an autobiography of Padma Lakshmi , which gives us a glimpse of her life with Salman Rashdie and a detailed analysis about the factors leading to her divorce, which is of course only a part of her life and her own passion for cooking , earn our respect for this woman. The book reveals the deep rooted nature of Indians, who are grounded to their roots inspire of reaching great heights of success anywhere and in which ever field they chose.

The most imapctful autobiographies are those of the two top woman journalists of our country, Tavleen Singhs ” Durbar” and Barkha Dutt’s “This Unquiet Land”which peel off layers and layers of dust from the headlines to reveal the dark unpleasant bitter truths.Their lives as journalists ,their work as reporters elicit salutes and inspire inspite of our cynicism for present day journalists and  journalism

Reading autobiographies is like taking a trip into an entirely different world ,by the end of which one is left with an hangover wanting more.

The bottomline is Autobiographies are stories of extraordinary lives which have left their deep imprints on the sands of time….


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