‘If I read 5-10 pages of Wodehouse at night, I invariably sleep better’

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Pinaki Misra
Pinaki Misra Photo: Ishan Tankha

|Politicians & Literature|

Pinaki Misra | 53 | Odisha
 MP, Biju Janata Dal

I’M A LAWYER. I cannot afford to be an erratic, flighty or a flaky reader. I’m an intense reader. One great advantage I have always had is the ability to speed-read; I don’t labour much over my reading. My father was a voracious reader, with a substantial collection of books. Whenever he bought a book, he’d pen his initials and the date and the place from where he bought it. I think that is so significant. It gives those books so much historicity and character. I never picked up that habit, unfortunately. But I do buy a lot of books. It’s a compulsion.

I read a lot of biographies. I have just finished the extraordinary biography of Fali S Nariman, who, I think, is by far the finest lawyer of our generation. His character has always fascinated me. His fearlessness — he resigned as Additional Solicitor General during the Emergency — how many people would have that kind of courage?

I also recently read all the three books published on the killing of Osama bin Laden. The counter-terror measures used by the US and Israel are such a contrast from our own pusillanimous methods. There is no other way of dealing with terror except firmly. I don’t know if ‘hawkish’ is the right word; I prefer ‘firmness’. The way these countries have set up counter-terror institutions and the kind of action they are capable of undertaking, contrasts starkly with the bleating we hear in India. This constant pleading with Pakistan to give us Dawood [Ibrahim] and Hafiz Saeed… You can’t give countries wishlists. You have got to go and take these people out.

Sometimes, I wish I had kept a diary. I have had some very interesting experiences, particularly in the late 1980s. But I was too young then. I was witness to the last years of Rajiv Gandhi, interacted closely with his government, and also with the Narasimha Rao regime, even during his Chandraswami ‘phase’. A lot of bizarre, funny and quirky things happened then that are worth writing about. Chandraswami’s ability to manipulate people was amazing. When I was with the Congress, the Rajiv government and Chandraswami fought savagely. I ran from court to court to keep Chandraswami out of jail because the government believed he was in league with Martin Ardbo, the Bofors chairman. It was thought that Chandraswami had a tape recording of Ardbo implicating Rajiv in the Bofors deal, so the government went after Chandraswami with all guns blazing. And then, all of a sudden, one day Chandraswami took me to meet Rajiv and it was over. It’s extraordinary how they became great friends. I know for a fact that up to Rajiv’s death in May 1991, they were very, very close. Chandraswami was investigated for almost a decade for the Rajiv assassination. That’s how misguided we are. Much of this couldn’t be written at the time, of course, but now it can be, though I don’t know how much trouble I’m asking for myself.

When I was young, I read the whole five-part series on Winston Churchill. The man who won the war lost the next election. I can never forget the rich irony of that and how the UK really is, in that sense, such a wonderfully evolved democracy. The people actually thought that with the war, Churchill’s task was over and he was no longer required as prime minister. I don’t think such a thing would ever happen in India.

My politics, though, is shaped more by the street than by books. There is no ideology left in Indian politics; that went out in the ’70s. After the Emergency, politics has become reduced to Congress and non-Congress, which is where we are today.

Finally, I read a lot on art. The ’40s, ’50s and ’60s were a rich period for Indian art, so I have a huge collection of books on (FN) Souza, for instance. Also, Hemen Majumdar and the Bengal School of Art. I’m a big Wodehouse fan, too. It really does transport you into another world. An idyllic world. I always have a Wodehouse by my bedside table. You always find a Bertie Wooster in life wherever you go — someone who can blunder his way through life and come out smelling of roses. But it would be most impolitic of me to mention the Wodehouse in our public life! If I read 5-10 pages of Wodehouse at night, I invariably sleep much better.

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