Not many politicians are given to write about their life and times and those that do often evoke little interest and much less enthusiasm. But L.K. Advani’s My Country My Life stands apart. To say just that is to underestimate its essence and character. It is, simply put, more than an autobiography. It is history, philosophy, political commentary, personal observations of a passing scene, all put together in language felicitous that even Jawaharlal Nehru, a fastidious autobiographer himself would have happily applauded.
It is said that reporting is a first draft of history. A politician’s autobiography, if objectively written and carefully researched can be a true reflection of the passage of time in all its nuances. History, after all, is a recounting of passing events.
Advaniji was born in Karachi and lived there for the first two decades of his life, until Partition took place and like thousands of Hindus he, along with his family, had to migrate to India. Then on, life began in earnest. He writes: “Uprooted from our home and escaping the flames of Partition, my family and I found protection and solace in the bosom of Mother India. Though herself mutilated and truncated, she made us feel at home.” What a touching tribute to Mother India! What was just as painful as being uprooted was “a tragic distancing” as he puts it, from his culture and language but he adds: “Both for an individual and a community, conditions of adversity pose a challenge and a challenge brings out the best in each one of us.”
"Advaniji is a marvellous story teller and what a fantastic collection of stories he has to tell! Often the scholar in Advaniji takes over from the politician and that by itself is sufficient to raise the quality of this work to the skies."
What is so charming and endearing about this book are the nuggets of wisdom that frequently flow out of the narrative. This is not the reflections of a mere politician. It is the outpouring of a true rishi, with the gift to take pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, success and failure in his stride.An example is his reaction to the anger he faced in India for his remarks in Pakistan on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Here is a man so utterly transparent, sogenuinely open-hearted, so completely dedicated that reading this memoir comes as a beckoning light to shattered hopes and downcast lives.
Advaniji divides his life into five periods: The first covers his life in Karachi spanning from 1927 to 1947, the second from 1947 to 1957 when he worked in Rajasthan as an RSS Pracharak, the third from 1957 to 1977 when he moved over to Delhi to serve as a political aide to Atal Behari Vajpayee, the fourth from 1977 to 1997 when he entered politics in a big way and the last, from 1997 to 2007 when he shouldered major responsibilities in governance. What is so attractive about this linear narration is that every page is swamped by anecdotes which makes it impossible to put it down.
Advaniji is a marvellous story teller and what a fantastic collection of stories he has to tell! Often the scholar in Advaniji takes over from the politician and that by itself is sufficient to raise the quality of this work to the skies. He writes about his fellow countrymen and women as well as foreigners and recounts the conversations he had with them with beguiling frankness. He has lots to say about his political contemporaries both in his own party and beyond and his reflections of Nanaji Deshmukh, M.S. Golwalkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Justice M.C. Chagla, George Fernandes, not to speak of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who, of course he never had a chance to discourse with make instructive reading.
He has plenty more to say about Indira Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, Benazir Bhutto, Pervez Musharraf and a whole lot of others including Morarji Desai and Sonia Gandhi, two wholly different characters! He is frank without being mean, open without being invasive, sharp without being hurtful, which, put together reveals the true gentleman that is Advaniji. His wide scholarship (fancy his taking Latin for his study at school) is reflected in the quotes that precede, indeed introduce, each chapter and they are from such luminaries as B.R. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda, Will Durant, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, James Russell Lowell and Somerset Maugham.
If his reports on his two long and meaningful yatras, the Ram Rath Yatra and Swarna Jayanti Yatra make one marvel at Advanji’s dedication to a cause, his chapters on the Ayodhya Movement, the Emergency, the Kargil War and relations with Pakistan should be a must reading for all critics. He is only too human. He says, for example, that when he, along with Vajpayeeji and five other senior Ministers waiting to hear from Pokhran, received the message that scientists have successfully exploded nuclear bombs, there were tears in his eyes. Perfectly understandable. It is not Advaniji that is speaking but a patriot. As was stated earlier, for sheer anecdotage, this work is hard to beat.
"What Brighu is among Maharshis and the Himalayas are among the mountains, My Country My Life is among memoirs. It is, as is self-evident, more than a sum of its parts, which is why, one can be assured, it is going to be a work long to be cherished. Indeed, the book proclaimeth the man."
For years to come this book will be quoted sometimes with awe and more often with delight. It is ruthlessly honest, but nowhere is there any show of animus, even when Advaniji is writing about the Congress or the CPM, parties with which he has had strong reasons to differ. His constant refrain is that he did what he felt washis duty to do. As he states about the Ram Rath Yatra: “The only thing I knew was that I had to perform my duty and not bother about the outcome of my karma”—a line straight from the Gita. Indeed, over and over again, whether Advaniji is conscious of it or not, he is following the Gita in letter and spirit. Often one wonders whether this memoir is a record of Advaniji’s achievements. The answer is: Yes, and No. Advaniji did not start his life to gain success. His ambition was to provide service. That he did in abundant measure. Service leads to awards, when success can pall. Throughout his life Advaniji has stuck to service. As he rightly claims, never in his life was he enamoured of any post or the power that supposedly came with it.
He was primarily a nishkami. Now past eighty, what he is seeking is “the peace and comfort of a quiet life” which had eluded him for so long. But the choice is not left to him precisely because he does not seek power. Power comes to those who do not wish to have it.
So, to sum it all, one can say that as time flies by, this book will be remembered as a classic. What Brighu is among Maharshis and the Himalayas are among the mountains, My Country My Life is among memoirs. It is, as is self-evident, more than a sum of its parts, which is why, one can be assured, it is going to be a work long to be cherished. Indeed, the book proclaimeth the man.