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Life Outside Politics
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(Excerpted from Advaniji’s autobiography MY COUNTRY MY LIFE)


Books, theatre and cinema have been a source of immense happiness throughout my life. As I have described in these memoirs, my love for books started when I was still in my early teens. When I learnt Hindi after coming to Rajasthan, I read K.M. Munshi’s Jai Somnath and, indeed, every single book written by him. It is this early habit that has enabled me to be with myself in the company of books throughout my hectic political life—whether I am campaigning for elections, travelling on my yatras or having a few solitary moments between meetings. Books take me into a world that is far removed from the limiting considerations of the here and now, a world of knowledge, ideas, emotions, adventure, imagination and even dreams. They introduce me to a dazzling variety of characters, each a unique manifestation of human nature, each a combination of strengths and weaknesses, and each grappling with the challenges of life in their own way, many failing, some succeeding.


I love a wide variety of books, but prefer books on politics, spirituality, history and futurology. C. Rajagopalachari’s Ramayana and Mahabharata are my all-time favourites. Dr S. Radhakrishnan’s books on Hinduism have influenced me deeply. I have immensely enjoyed reading Alvin Toffler’s trilogy: Future Shock, The Third Wave, and Power Shift. Indeed, having read somewhere that I was a fan of his books, Toffler, during his visit to India in 2002, called on me at my residence. I have greatly admired Stanley Wolpert’s many books on the history and politics of the Indian subcontinent. Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the many books by Paulo Coelho have inspired me. An important point Covey makes is that, for self-improvement or for becoming effective, one need not just sweet-talk or remember people’s birthdays. These sophisticated things are fine, but what counts for more than anything else is one’s basic honesty and integrity. So true.


Although I interact with Arun Shourie as a party colleague, I have also, independently, admired him as a writer with a crusading spirit. If I have to mention one writer on constitutional matters who has not only inspired me but whose books have been a regular source of reference in my political and parliamentary work, it has to be Durga Das Basu. His

Introduction to the Constitution of India and his eight-volume Commentary on the Constitution of India are works of extraordinary erudition.


I also like watching movies and plays, although I regret that I don’t get enough time these days to satisfy this interest. In theatre, I have immensely liked the mono-act musical plays (Kabir and Swami Vivekananda) of Shekhar Sen. Satyajit Ray’s movies have moved me deeply and so have those by Guru Dutt. I have liked the early movies of Raj Kapoor, and the

strong patriotic theme in all the films made by Manoj Kumar. I admired Sunil Dutt both as an actor and as a good human being, one who played a commendable role by undertaking a pad yatra for Hindu-Sikh unity when Punjab was rocked by terrorism. Some of the truly admirable movies I have watched recently with family and friends are Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par, Feroze Khan’s Gandhi, My Father, Shahrukh Khan’s Chak De India and Lage Raho Munnabhai by the duo of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani. Among the foreign films, the ones I have liked the most are The Bridge on the River Kwai, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music.


I should make a special mention of Amitabh Bachchan, whose versatility and almost limitless talent have never ceased to amaze me. His parents, the legendary Hindi poet Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan, were closely known to me. Indeed, when Amitabh Bachchan’s debut film Saat Hindustani, written and directed by K.A. Abbas, came out in 1969, Teji Bachchan arranged a special screening for me. Therefore, it was in some ways a journey down memory lane for me, too, when my daughter Pratibha did a lengthy, five-part interview with Amitji to mark the hundredth episode of her weekly Namaste Cinema programme on Zee TV. Though a legend, he encourages younger people. After the programme was telecast, he sent a text message to Pratibha: ‘Thank you. It was such a joy talking to you. The quality of an interview is judged not by the person getting interviewed, but by the person interviewing, and you were marvellous.’


As a former movie critic and lifelong lover of films, I have closely watched the evolution of Hindi cinema. Since I was also once an avid lover of plays, I have often compared cinema and theatre as art forms. Theatre produces an intensity of artistic communication between the

artistes and the audience that is unique to it. But it does not have the mass reach of cinema and television, whose impact is greatly enhanced by their visual richness, musical content and its ability to take the viewer on an odyssey in space and time. For as long as I have been watching Hindi movies, they have functioned as promoters of national integration. In this context, I should make an appreciative mention of the joint efforts of film makers Bharat Bala and his wife Kanika, along with popular music director A.R. Rahman, to creatively render Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem, and Vande Mataram, the national song.


In recent decades, Hindi movies have also emerged as India’s powerful cultural ambassadors all over the globe. When I think of these twin-roles of Indian cinema (and I recognise the role of non-Hindi films also in this), my heart is filled with a sense of gratitude towards all the great artists, singers, music composers, producers, directors and others associated with our film industry. I am especially impressed by the young talent in Indian cinema, and would like to express a wish that they tap more into India’s precious and inexhaustible inheritance of literature, arts, social reform, patriotic valor and spiritual exploration.


Music has always been a source of joy and relaxation for me. I used to play the flute when I was younger; indeed, I was a regular flutist in the RSS band in Karachi. I love film songs, both old and new, especially those with slow and soulful tunes. I have nearly 300 songs stored on my i-pod as well as in my MP3-installed mobile, and listen to them whenever I have some free time. Lata Mangeshkhar, India’s Nightingale, is my all-time favourite among popular singers. I never tire of listening to her songs, especially her devotional numbers such as Jyoti Kalash Chhalake. I am grateful to Lataji because she has sung this song at my request at several public events where we have shared the dais.


I find great solace in listening to bhajans by Anup Jalota and also to ghazals by Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hasan and Mallika Pukhraj. Among classical dancers, I have been a fan of Sonal Mansingh and Raja Radha Reddy, who are also family friends. And among my family friends, who are also members of the BJP, are four renowned personalities from the film and TV world: Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini and Smriti Irani.


* * *


Two non-political interviews


In 1991, Afternoon Despatch & Courier, a Mumbai-based newspaper, carried an interview with me under the caption ‘20 Questions’, which focused on my non-political life.


Q: What is your greatest weakness?

A: Books; at a grosser level, chocolates.


Q: Your most prized possession?

A: My books; and my wife’s collection of Ganapati statuettes.


Q: How do you relax?

A: Whenever possible, go to a theatre to watch a play; or else occupy myself with books or TV.


Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

A: I think my temperament needs some wit and sparkle (which it presently lacks), and also some capacity to indulge in small talk.


Q: How would you describe yourself?

A: As a political activist earnestly exerting to make the BJP an instrument that can change today’s image of the UGLY INDIAN POLITICIAN, steeped in corruption and opportunism.


Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

A: Through the Ram Rath Yatra, to be able to precipitate a vigorous national debate on the content of Indian Nationalism, and the true meaning of secularism.


Q: If you could be reborn, what would you like to come back as?

A: As I am, to complete the tasks remaining unfinished.


Q: If you were told that you had only twenty-four hours to live how would you spend them?

A: By forgetting that I had only one day left, and spending the day as normally as I otherwise do.


Q: Your favourite person?

A: My daughter, Pratibha.


Q: Your favourite city?

A: Karachi.


Q: How would you like to be remembered?

A: As a person who conscientiously strove to live up to his convictions.


* * *


In the same year, the Telegraph, a Kolkata-based newspaper, posed me a set of similar questions.

Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A: Being at perfect peace with my own self, my own conscience.


Q: What do you dislike most in others?

A: Pettiness and Crudity.


Q: What makes you most depressed?

A: There was a time when criticism of my views hurt me. It bothers me no more. However, an attack on my bonafides does distress me deeply.


Q: What is your favourite word?

A: Credibility. In recent years, ‘credibility’ has become a key attribute whereby parties and politicians are judged.


Q: On what occasions do you lie?

A: There are occasions when telling the truth would cause needless hurt or anguish to a dear one. It is in such situations that I do try to lie. I do not know if I am able to get away successfully.


Q: What is your greatest regret?

A: That in spite of the fact that I adore Sanskrit, I did not study Sanskrit.


Q: What brings tears into your eyes?

A: Tears of joy or sorrow, immediately moisten my eyes. Even a moving piece of dialogue in a film, or, for that matter, fulsome praise showered on the BJP by an outsider, or news of some outstanding achievement by a near and dear one, makes me emotional.


Q: How would you like to die?

A: I would like death to come to me suddenly and abruptly, without notice, either to me or to anybody else.



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