Autobiographies

Friday ~ July 07, 2008 by Sangeeta Posted in Books,reviews

I have thumbed through some autobiographies over the years and have always come away feeling touched, inspired, enriched.

What always amazes me is how contrasting our perceptions of celebrities, leaders, luminaries can be to what they actually might be.

I remember reading Charlie Chaplin and being wonder-struck. My whole outlook to his cinema changed! I had never managed to completely enjoy the humour in his films because of the underlying pathos. I used to feel pained as I watched his sad and folorn eyes do all the talking! But the man himself was in real life quite amazing! He was a super celebrity and amassed quite a lot of wealth ( though his beginings were humble) as well as a large family! His third wife Oonga – I don’t recall very well but that’s the name I think – was many years younger and he lived happily with her and his large brood. In his book, he talks of his fan following, the way he insisted on continuing with black and white no-sound movies even when sound and colour were being introduced and his marriages.

There are many others which I have enjoyed – My experiments with Truth was again an eye-opener. I took up this one primarily because my husband absolutely insisted! I have not regretted reading it.

Another autobiography that impressed me was Khuswant Singh’s “Truth, Love and a Little Malice”. I had never read any of his books though he was always in the news. I had somehow kept away from his books, in part because of his reputation of being a scandalous author. Probably a similar reason had kept me away from Shobha De’s books.  But KS is awesome – he talks about his life begining with his birth ( this is something that Shobha De says she definitely didn’t want in her autobiography – birth, adolescence, adulthood and old age stories in a choronological order!) and he writes with such vividity about everything that it is fascinating – of course he doesn’t bother to hide or even gloss over his sexual exploits either – but somehow he just seems to be stating things very matter of factly – rather than trying to shock. His autobiography definitely gave a lot of insights. As it turned out, his writings were not about titillation at all but something else altogether – he specialized in writing about Sikhism. He was also very high-profile and in government service as well ; so to someone like me who was born much later, it is very interesting to read about the politics of those times, about incidents involving Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and family from a source like KS rather than a historian or politician. Though KS can be called a politician considering he was an MP in the Rajya Sabha. I liked his straightforwardness in mentioning how his connections and his parentage helped him “achieve” certain positions in life. It somehow does nothing to diminish his aura or doubt his intellect.

Shobha De’s Selective Memory was again something else. It was also insightful and at times delightful. I found it slightly confusing though – like I mentioned, her book is not any chronological order and is like a ball of wool undone – the events are all jumbled up and you never know which incident has happened at what point in her life. I found it a little difficult to connect with her for most of the book. Then right at the end, she has devoted a chapter to her marriage, kids, parents and the person within the celebrity ( a term she dislikes according to the book) shines forth.

The autobiography I’m readng right now is of Richard Branson. I am once again deeply touched. He is so different from what we preceive through the media. What an extraordinary human being and how decent! Though he is as insane ( probably even more) as you can imagine! A very insightful, inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable read.

You’d think that a person would never write bad things about himself or herself, so is it any wonder that you end up thinking they are amazing. But most of the times, it is difficult to fool a reader the way it is difficult to fool a movie-going audience. The content has to be good to make an impact – simply self-aggrandisement would not work.

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