‘When I read, I get into somebody else’s life, I travel’

Vasundhara Raje
Vasundhara Raje Photo: Sarang Sena

|Politicians & Literature|

Vasundhara Raje | 59 | Rajasthan

I HAVE BEEN a voracious reader all my life. I remember reading under the covers with my torch — not only at boarding school, I had to do that even at home because ‘lights out’ was seriously ‘lights out’! So I remember purloining my torch and being carried away by the story of the chimney sweep in The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley’s children’s classic, in which a chimney sweep falls into water and is transformed in to a water baby. I did all the Georgette Heyers and Somerset Maughams. I don’t think I missed out on any of those stages of reading and I enjoyed them all thoroughly.

But now, I enjoy reading biographies. One side of me is very Gerald Durrell and the other side is very Lawrence Durrell. Lawrence’s Alexandria Quartet is very interesting — set in Eqypt during World War II. When I’m reading, I do two things at one time — I read, I get into somebody else’s life and I travel. It’s like being a tourist.

Now, for instance, I’m reading three books at once. There’s the biography of Catherine the Great (the Russian empress in the 18th century), Potemkin Prince of Princes by Simon Montefiore. Then there’s Jeffrey Archer’s Prison Diaries (a series of three diaries about his days in prison) and then there’s this book by Claire Balding called My Animals and Other Family — the title is a take-off of the Gerald Durrell book My Family and Other Animals. I’m enjoying reading that because I love animals. The book about Catherine the Great tells an amazing story. Of how she came from out of nowhere at 14, to another country and then had to take it over after her husband was assassinated. She’s all woman, she loved to dress, and loved art and reading, and at the same time, was also very political.

When you read a book like this, it always strikes a personal chord somewhere. We women think there’s this tall, dark and handsome man that’s going to come into our lives and sweep us off our feet and there’s very little that we are going to have to do. But actually what really happens is that you really have to take care of your own self and make your own way. And there is no tall, dark and handsome stranger.

I have been through a lot of what she faced, and so there are some similarities — one finds that with most well-written books.

I identify even with Claire Balding and the kind of life she led with all the animals in her life. Her penchant for riding and horses struck a chord. As youngsters, we spent a lot of time on the racecourse, riding and also looking after our horses. Our father was a keen owner of racehorses. I still remember my first horse. There’s something about animals that unlocks a genuine, pure emotion within. So, of course, I have been through the gamut from Black Beauty to Born Free. Then there was the historical reading alongside.

The other thing I’m also reading a lot of now are ‘How To…’ books. I used to scorn these at one time, but now I think there is something to be said about them. Hoffman’s books, for instance, The Hoffman Process by Tim Laurence, a spiritual detox as it were, which helps one look within and go back to when you were very young. A search that takes you through all those things that may have caused hurt or neglect or pain to you and that you may have in turn inflicted that on others. It helps you to live with yourself better.

That’s why I think being in your 50s is great because you look forward to the next 20 years and think seriously about what you are going to do with those as you realise that life is finite. And you don’t want to waste it any more. It’s not about your politics or your career but about what kind of life you have lived. So you stand in front of your bookshelf in a state of panic and say, “shall I read this or that?” Then you calm yourself down and tell yourself you will just pick what makes you happy.

I don’t mind being alone now. I’m in Dholpur surrounded by trees, no people. Not watching TV that aggravates me. Even the newspapers never have anything good to offer. We are losing the ability to just let go and be happy. To just sit in your garden with a book and experience the peace that comes with it. It just feels so good.



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