23 November, 2020

Unwritten Chapters

Why does India resist honest biographies? Because the idea of an overarching public space is absent.

Unwritten Chapters
"Autobiography," wrote Englishman Lord Altrincham, 40 years ago, "is now as common as adultery, and hardly less reprehensible." Reprehensible or not, putting private life on public show is an indulgence few Indians are guilty of. So deliberately do our leaders cultivate this reticence about their personal life that even biographers hardly dare to break through to the real person. Whether it's a hagiography like Gyanwati Darbar's sentimental account of her relationship with Rajendra Prasad, a commissioned biography like Dom Moraes' book on Indira Gandhi, a widow's reminiscences like Maneka Gandhi's tract on Sanjay Gandhi, a serialised confession like J. Jayalalitha's or even a candid autobiography like Khushwant Singh's indiscreet glimpses of the private lives of public leaders, they have invariably merited snubs, tears and court cases instead of the fame and huge advances that herald a new biography in the West.

The scandal that Katherine Frank created here with her revelations on Indira Gandhi had little to do with the revelations themselves, but with her temerity in...


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