Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has gone ahead and tweeted that people should give him books instead of bouquets. Before it caught the imagination of most, other tweets were unearthed, copycat labels were thrown about. Suddenly, we’ve also got a list other ministers who have requested for books.
Incidentally, this was an idea borrowed from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who, earlier this year, when offered bouquets had suggested that books be given instead.
But, before this tweet dies an untimely death, we believe it is such a good idea. Our Prime Minister is permanently in motion, from one country to another and from one event to another. The sheer number of books he can read on these tours is immense. The opportunities to build his library are vast.
We have compiled a list of books that the organisers of his future events must take a note of. These are books he must have read anyway and in case he has, it is always good to have a second copy. And in case he hasn’t, the organisers of his future events would have hit the jackpot. They are, in fact, contributing towards the nation’s growth. A nationalist cause indeed!
Since, our PM is more out than in, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond must be on top of the list. This book attempts to provide a short history of everything for the last 13,000 years. History in a capsule, or more or less 425 pages. It focuses on why some societies became powerful and others didn’t. It’s good to know about farmer power and the future of human history as a science. ‘Why didn’t scientific inquiry flourish in China’ or ‘advanced technology in native North America’, are a couple of questions this book addresses.
Knowing our PM’s penchant for all things Indian, the next on the list should come as no surprise - Kautilya’s Arthashastra. This is your handbook for running an empire, which the current ruling faction believes it does. Often translated as The Science of Material Gain, the book is more about diplomacy, law, taxation, irrigation and less about personal gain. There’s a section on the duties of a ruler, it must not be brushed aside. It has statements such as ‘if an informant succeeds in proving only a part of a big embezzlement, he shall, nevertheless, get the prescribed share of the part of the embezzled amount proved’. Sample this – ‘Government servants shall not only be confiscated of their ill-earned hordes, but also be transferred from one work to another, so that they cannot either misappropriate Government money or vomit what they have eaten’.
Our country is going through a phase where a lot of our history is being rewritten, so it would be good to brush up on them so that the correct version persists. Also, since we are suckers for foreign writers, the book by John Keay, India – a History is a good place to start and our beloved PM can then move on to History of India in two volumes by Romila Thapar and Percival Spear. Both deal with the same subject, just that the first one does it in 500 pages, while the second volume is much more elaborate and better. At least the confusion of how many years old our civilisation is should get sorted.
Since many versions of India’s Independence are gaining currency, Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins must be gifted. Most other authors who have written on the subject could have been associated with the movement, but these two weren’t. For that and also because this book gives a balanced narrative, it should be on the list. An eye-opener into who actually fought and who didn’t.
We think it is about time he read fiction. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell should be on every bibiophile’s list. Because the book may evoke a sense of déjà vu, another one by the same author could be considered too – Animal Farm.
Hindi literature is vast and to choose has been difficult, but Gunahon ka Devta by Dharamvir Bharti is a must. In the days of ‘Love Jihad’, we see nothing much has changed since 1949. It brings to the fore the question of what an ‘adarsh baalak’ should do.
Godaan by Premchand is on this list for obvious reasons and also because these are the conditions in which those who care for cows mostly live in. Caste equations and societal compulsions still rule the life of rural Indians. Much needs to be done to change that.
Since our PM does like mythology, maybe Bhima: Lone Warrior, written by MT Vasudevan Nair and translated by Gita Krishnankutty, could be a starting point for regional literature. This is the story of Bhima from his perspective, as a human being, not only a warrior. He was a warrior without an equal but his moments of triumph remained unrecognised.
No such buying list can be complete without Rudali by Mahasweta Devi. It is an indictment of the brahmanical patriarchy and caste hierarchy through the story of a woman, in a country where she is called to represent goddess Durga at will. And then discriminated.
This could be considered a concise list, but since organisers are likely to run through this in a jiffy, they could look at Why I Should Be Tolerant – Essays by Sunita Narain, To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan, Walden by Henry David Thoreau and of course,One hundred years of Solitude and Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.