‘When she was pregnant, my mother would read poetry hoping I would become a poet’

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RPN Singh
RPN Singh Photo: Vijay Pandey

|Politicians & Literature|

RPN Singh | 48 | Uttar Pradesh
Minister of State for Home Affairs, Congress

I CAN’T PRETEND to be widely or deeply read. I believe politicians should read, and read seriously, not just bestsellers. Inevitably, this mostly means non-fiction, thought-provoking work by prominent intellectuals, journalists, historians and philosophers. Of course, that’s what I preach. In practice, I love bestsellers. I read for pleasure. I think Jeffrey Archer is great fun — a fast, racy read. I used to read many books by Robert Ludlum; you can’t put them down. There is something to admire in writers who keep you turning the page. In my travels across the small towns of Uttar Pradesh, I see Chetan Bhagat’s books everywhere. He is incredibly popular and as much as I would like to say politicians should read only heavyweight books by heavyweight authors, there is value in the popular, in enjoying the books you read and being in touch with what ordinary people, not just intellectuals, are reading.

Also, there is something to be learned from these books. A writer like Bhagat understands something about the desires of his huge constituency of young readers and so I find reading a writer like that a learning experience. Personally, if there’s a popular book that I can point to, which taught me something about life, about human nature, it is Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The book left a deep impression on me. Obviously, I have seen the movie and read the books more than once. There are some very strong, objective lessons about life that you can learn from Puzo, and his characters. Michael Corleone is fascinating: his conflict with himself; the metamorphosis of the war veteran eager to enjoy an ordinary life into another kind of soldier, one loyal to the cause of his family. Let’s face it; he’s also drawn to that life, the world of his family. You see it around you, here in our own country, the criminal who reinvents himself as a businessman. People sometimes laugh at popular fiction, but we all know that the truth is often even stranger.

My mother will probably sigh to herself, reading my praise for popular fiction. She loves to read. When she was pregnant with me, she would read poetry out loud, hoping that I might grow up to be a poet. That’s some optimism.

In school we read a lot of English poets — Keats, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, of course. What you actually read, though, as a child, for fun were Tintin, Richie Rich, Amar Chitra Katha and The Famous Five, which are fantastic. Funnily enough, as a politician, what you mostly read are questions put to Parliament, and when I do get an opportunity to read, it’s to my children at bedtime. So, I get to read again all the stories I loved when I was a child.

If I do have a regret when it comes to books, it’s that I have not read enough in Hindi. We did read some Premchand in school and, I know, there is some excellent writing in Hindi, but a love for reading is created early on in life and I feel there aren’t enough books for children being written in Hindi. When I look for books for my children, there is little that is on offer and that’s an advantage for English.

But, as much as I’m nostalgic for the books I read as a child, I recognise the importance of reading, for people like me. Serious reading requires time and concentration, things that are in short supply when your political life is so demanding, but it’s necessary for perspective, for understanding, and perhaps that is where my generation lags behind.

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