Book Review: One Life is Not Enough , An autobiography of K. Natwar Singh. Someone who chose a life of servitude and loyalty with Pride.
Who will like this Book : Those who admire the legacy of British Raj and the Institutions created by it, will find the book interesting. The book delves deeply into Indian Diplomacy and looks Indian Politics from that standpoint. It’s also the first hand account of the life as a diplomat.
The book weaves certain nostalgia around Indian Civil Services . Kunwar Natwar Singh is a career diplomat, and is a product of UPSC Civil Services Exam for IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS, Allied Services etc. The book is well written and is surely addictive.
What is amiss?
The book mainly talks about Natwar Singh’s public life — his years as a diplomat and later as a politician. The reader gets to know very little about the author. The book does delve into author’s childhood, education, career , marriage and his relations with other public figures, but it doesn’t speak much about his immediate family, emotional accidents or anything which any autobiographer wants the World to know, before he starts winding up his life. But that can be excused , as all through the book , the author directly or indirectly clarifies that even the reader must not expect him to stoop below a certain level of dignified behavior and conduct. That’s why , the prospective buyer must not compare it to some Khushwant Singh Book. Still, the book is engaging.
You may be wondering why I began this review this way. Because, it’s difficult for a reader with no knowledge of Diplomacy , to comment on the diplomatic experiences and viewpoints of the author. And since, the author’s diplomatic life occupies a lot of space in the book, hence I felt it apt to share with you the overall experience of reading the book. In this light, if the book is engaging, then that is the best test of its worthiness.
Natwar Singh’s autobiography, One Life Is Not Enough, covers three phases of his Life :
1) His childhood as the youngest son of the right hand man of the Raja of Bharatpur. A life which has its perks, but also significant experiences of servitude, which made an indelible mark on his behaviour in later phases of his life. His growing up as a Rajput for who self respect, duty and loyalty come before anything else.
2) His Career as a diplomat spanning more than five decades
3) His career as a politician.
The Title of the Book — One Life is Not Enough seems perfect as the author appears to have much ambition in him, even at 83 years of age. At one point, he informs the readers that he’s healthy and meditates every morning.
The autobiography is dedicated to Hem, Natwar Singh’s wife, the princess of Patiala and sister of Captain Amarinder Singh of Patiala dynasty.
Nothing To Hide
The autobiography begins with Plato’s quote : An unexamined life is not worth living.
Natwar Singh invites readers to examine his life. Through his own examination , he gained one thing — Self Realization. Has he put his life to the reader’s scrutiny? It appears so. Although all through his book, he followed a weird principle. He revealed the names of people who are dead. But doesn’t do so in the case of living mortals. His logic: It’s not good to reveal names of Living people.
I can say, it’s not good to reveal names of dead people, as they can’t defend themselves.
Natwar Singh as a diplomat, knew almost every politician and influential figure of his time. The book is filled with the instances and photographs of him with Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, C Rajagopalachari, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia Ul Haq, Leaders of Muslim World, Africa, residents at UN, authors such as R K Narayan, E.M. Forster, Nirad C Chaudhary etc. One of the photographs also shows him with young Maqbool Fida Husain, giving final touches to the author’s portrait . In his years as a diplomat, he worked with Jawaharlal Nehru, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi. In his years as politician, he worked with Indira Gandhi , Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Sonia Gandhi … up to Manmohan Singh.
While explaining his interactions with most of these influential personalities, the author conveys his image as someone with a patient ear. Someone who can not only keep secrets but also help the other person in his subtle, non-intrusive ways. While reading the book, I closely followed the comments of the people, who Natwar Singh quoted in his book. I found that even those disagreeing with Natwar Singh’s interpretation of events shared in the book, didn’t blame him of creating facts. This made me conclude that even rivals see him as a truthful , trustworthy , loyal individual. An individual who will not fudge facts. Something which seemed consistent all through the book.
Well Read, Extensively traveled and Intelligent
Reading just a few pages of the book, is sufficient enough to see that Mr. Natwar Singh is extremely well read. He’s eager to learn, has seen much of the World and is highly intelligent. Except for a few instances, he’s Intelligent enough to spot opportunities in his life and act on them. He also knows the importance of right contacts.
Helps you understand other Politicians and leaders
As said in the beginning, the book speaks more about others , than it speaks about the author. This in a way makes the book interesting. It offers the reader an insight into what other politicians contemporary to the author, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi were/are really like in their personal and professional lives. For instance, the book shares an interesting incident about India’s First President Dr. Rajendra Prasad in which the Simplicity loving President manages to choose a groom for his grand-daughter from among the IFS probationers.
He Looks Bitter
Although, he claims that he harbours no bitterness for others, but every now then this bitterness comes to the fore. His claim can be taken for his diplomatic career, but surely not for his life as a politician. For instance, while he chooses to call irregularities in CWG, Coal allocations as Scams, he chooses the word ‘Conspiracy’ for Volcker Report , where he was accused of getting kickbacks. Although, the reader gets a feeling that his bitterness for Congress and Sonia Gandhi is not that unjustified. He genuinely sees himself as a man who was stabbed in the back, for all his loyalty. But unfortunately, even this justified bitterness doesn’t give the reader any clue regarding the truth.
Book is more than what it’s promoted for
The book is made to look as something too critical of Sonia Gandhi and the Gandhi family. Surprise is that it’s not. It has some pages devoted to Sonia Gandhi, but they are more like — everyone from Natwar Singh to Narsimha Rao , trying to get close to her, and come into her good books.
In short, the book is much more than or much different from what its marketing team promoted it for. The revelations which Mr. Singh promised in most TV Channel interviews, are nothing but his own opinions on various issues of National and International importance.
The book ends in the author sharing the inevitability of Death, which for him can be any time in future. But from the very tone of the book, it appears that this book is not his last. He’s Healthy and we will see more Wisdom from him in coming years.
My Rating : 4 stars out of 5
The book is finely written. To a reader of a certain taste (as shared in the beginning) the book is some sort of Time travel, from 1930s to 2014. The Book is interesting.