2018, my very own annus mirabilis
Initial censure notwithstanding, a few newspapers have concluded that one of my co-written books has 'broken the mould in security literature'
The last week of 2018 proved eventful, personally. The book I've co-written with former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, 'India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy' was launched, and then two days later came the release of the official trailer of 'The Accidental Prime Minister', which I co-wrote, based on Sanjaya Baru's best-selling memoir of when he was media advisor to Dr Manmohan Singh. The ruling BJP shared it on social media and it immediately became controversial – and widely-known.
A laywer friend from Mumbai telephoned and marvelled at how I could release a book that enraged the current PM, Narendra Modi, and soon after be part of a film that would likely irritate his principal opponent, Congress president Rahul Gandhi. It is a sign of the times that journalists aren't allowed to be against all, and that they're expected to take sides.
And, on Saturday, when respectable broadsheets carry a "Books" page, both Indian Express and Hindustan Times carried lists of 2018's best. 'The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace', that I co-wrote with former spychiefs AS Dulat (of India) and Asad Durrani (of Pakistan) was said to have "broken the mould in security literature". When it published in May, it was to divided opinion: individuals supporting the government's "muscular" policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and Kashmir came down heavily on the book. At one think-tank, a shrieky lady called it "shallow", a most baffling comment. Such polemics debate characterises our country nowadays.
Several commentators resorted to ad hominem attacks: more than one referred to the two retired men's fondness for capping the day-long dialogue with an evening whiskey. Both Dulat and I have been branded as liberal, though how a career intelligence officer can be called this puzzles me.
Durrani had it worse, placed on Pakistan's exit control list; the book's controversy was compounded by his (separate) revelation that intelligence agencies formed and paid off political parties in the late 1980s. He is still unable to travel abroad, even to neighbouring Afghanistan where he was involved in Track-2 discussions about peace and the Taliban.
That some newspapers thought well of 'The Spy Chronicles' was satisfying. As moderator and co-writer, one tends to get overlooked. That's why, at the launch of 'India Unmade', Mr Sinha was alone on a panel discussion with two senior journalists who were clearly out of their depth talking about the economy. Some in the audience got combative with Mr Sinha, trying to provoke him by talking ahout what they thought were Modi's achievements, and one person felt that elderly people (like Mr Sinha) should call it a day and give it a rest. Thankfully, Mr Sinha emphatically told the questioner that he would never call it a day, and would continue to call out Modi.
It's okay that the co-writer is overlooked (or even considered a mere stenographer). My satisfaction derives from the close relationships I have built with wise and educated people, who other people perceive as taciturn or mysterious. It is also satisfying to see one's prose effort end up on a best-list – considering that other former spychiefs (and even Durrani himself) who did solo projects this year, end up with books that are so pompously and boringly written that they sink without a trace.
The fact is that I am no longer the idealist I was as a young man. At university I chanced upon Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and I was no longer a pre-medical student; I dreamed of being a literary novelist. When I arrived in India, my late granduncle advised me to take up journalism to fill the time before I wrote my Great Indian Novel. After a decade (and two books) into my career, a newspaper colleague smirked about how everyone in the newsroom imagined that he was Ernest Hemingway. It is only now that I have accepted that a life of journalism has made it unlikely that I will produce a literary novel, and that non-fiction is probably my calling for the remainder of whatever life I have left.
In 2018, I considered a career in film and TV writing, even though the industry is dominated by 30somethings, many of whom regard me as an "uncleji". This came to be because of my co-writing of The Accidental Prime Minister, a fascinating and unforgettable experience. Such a career might not be for me because it would mean moving to Mumbai, and sadly I'm no newcomer willing to undergo "struggle". Heck, I don't even want to return to the newsroom anymore. As someone well into middle-age I find comfort in the quiet, undisturbed life of reading and writing. Thankfully, 2018 personally validated life outside the rat-race. I can only wish that many of you find similar comfort and validation in 2019.
Aditya Sinha is a columnist and writer. His next book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy', co-written with Yashwant Sinha, is out next week. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to email@example.com
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