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Book Review: Natwar Singh's 'One Life is Not Enough'
An unexamined life is not worth living- says Plato. From this line K. Natwar Singh has started his new book 'One Life is Not Enough'. Perhaps he felt in this age to examine his life. His book 'One Life is Not Enough' is much more than an autobiography.

Close to the genre of the art of non-fiction and travelogue, it gives a good account of political history of India, the experiences of the author travelling in different foreign countries, Natwar Singh had first hand experiences of those countries and their relations with India which he has copiously used in the book with a fine narrative style which adds much to the value of the autobiography, particularly when he talks of the great Indian leaders with whom he came in contact and whose portraits he paints with an excellent literary touch.

He had a spectacular career and reached the acme of power till in 2005 when he fell from the favour of Sonia Gandhi owing to an epochal event relating to the Volcker Report.

Right from the very beginning the writer labors to show his acquaintances with great authors and contemporary writers like E.M. Forster, J. R. Ackerlay, L. Dickinson, R.K. Narayan, Ahmad Ali, Santha Rama Rao and many others as a result of which the book smacks of a literary flavor and reverts with echoes of poetic allusions like 'only connect' and 'Two Cheers for Democracy' from E.M. Forster and many other eminent writers which add a literary dimension to the book.

However, while referring to E.M. Forster's essay "Two cheers for Democracy", Natwar Singh forgets that the author gives three cheers to the Plato's love, the Beloved Republic where love, understanding, tolerance, sympathy and personal relationship count.

Had Mr. Singh explored this theme of love and personal relationship instead of dealing with personal grudge and animosity, he would have given a much more vital, valuable and permanent voice to his autobiography.

Regarding his reference to H.G. Well's comment on the transistorizes of human life and his Urdu couplet, "Duniya ek ajab sarye-faani dekhi, Har baatt yahan ki aani jani dekhi. Jo aake na jaaye wo budhapa dekha, jo jaake na aaye wo jawaani dekhi," comparing the world to an inn, the torture of old age and the tantalizing fast running out of youth, these are universal aspects of human life which have been expressed by all the philosophers and poets, as may be found in the following verse:

Wae nadani ke waqt-i marg ye sabit huwa

Khwab tha jo kuch ke dekha, jo suna afsana tha

(Alas! at the last moment of death it was revealed. All that was seen was a dream; all that was heard was a story).

Brief, objective and cute, the portrayals of these great men and women aim at giving a direct insight into these eminent personalities. Thus talking of Morarji Desai, Natwar Singh portrays him as an "astute politician, but he was obdurate, self righteous and lacked warmth and sense of humour? As a Prime Minister, he was pedantic and unimaginable", and while talking of Indira Gandhi, he paints a fine picture of the great lady:

"Indira Gandhi was a great leader; not the solemn, serious martinet she is made out to be. Seldom is it mentioned that this graceful, sparkling, engaging human being was a caring humanist, that she was endowed with charm, elegance and good taste?.."

Similarly an account of Rajiv Gandhi's personality is equally interesting:

"He was the most natural, charming and least pompous man I had met. No sides, no angularities, no pretence; a great sense of humor and no airs?."

But his portrayal of Sonia Gandhi is extremely interesting and unparallel:

"Sonia's public image is not flattering. To an extent, she has herself to blame for it. She never lets her guard down, never gives away what is in her mind. Obsessively secretive and suspicious, she evokes awe, not admiration".

These and many are the accounts of the life and works of great leaders which add immense value to the book.

Similarly Natwar Singh appears quite objective and sincere when he talks of Pandit Jawahal Lal Nehru's achievements as the first Prime Minister of India:

"One cannot but applaud Pandit Nehru's achievements. His accomplishments were not confined to foreign policy, finance or Five-Year Plans??"

At the same time, his account of the emergency declared by Indira Gandhi is quite frank, truthful and objective particularly when he observes:

"What we had, in fact, been doing was justifying the unjustifiable, selling the unsalable, promoting the unpromotable and legitimizing the unlegitimizable?."

As an experienced diplomat, his comments on Indira Gandhi's relation and foreign policy are quite apt and relevant with which he fills the pages of the book. Here his remark on Pakistan is equally relevant.

"Indo-Pak relations have been, and are, accident-prone. The future lies in the past. Kashmir is the ultimate hurdle. We have to deal with Pakistan in a pragmatic manner if we are not made a mess of the relationship."

The author takes much pain to make the reading pleasant and interesting by adding a tinge of humor and surprise to the book, like the Indian Monks collapsing, when they were told by the Buddhist Monks from Cambodia preferring beef for their food in India, or the collector of Kunchi on his twenty-fifth wedding, commenting on his wife, "When I married her, she was awfully simple, now she is simply awful", or his information that in the foreign service administration LBW means, 'Let the Bastard Wait'.

Finally the author brings the subject to the climax when he narrates his plight that threw him out of the favor of Sonia Gandhi:

"Nothing happens in the Congress without the knowledge and the nod of Sonia Gandhi. This is power without responsibility and backseat driving with impunity. I soon found myself completely isolated and the trial by the media put more pressure on me and my family. On 6 December, I resigned from the Cabinet."

Slowly but steadily, Natwar Singh fills the readers with great feelings of sympathy for himself when he states his final tragic fall:

"My expulsion from the Congress Party was conveyed to me in a two-line note at 2 a.m. on a freezing winter night?."

One is at once moved with a sense of grief and desertion meted out to him and is reminded of Shakespeare's play King Henry VIII in which the cardinal exclaims at his abrupt dismissal by the King:

"Had I but served my God with half the zeal

I served my king; he would not in mine age

Have left me naked to mine enemies".

In spite of all his devices and attempts to make it an appealing and an interesting autobiography, the author fails owing to the controversy regarding his fall from the power, his attempt to defend and absolve himself and the huge controversies and reactions that have followed and raised a storm in the political sphere of the country.

First and foremost, it may be noted that the book presents only one side of the story to defend himself. We may have, only a glimpse of the other side from the investigations of the Volcker Report, which, according to the writer himself, still remains inconclusive. The real truth, therefore, remains elusive until and unless Sonia Gandhi, the main protagonist of the drama, comes out with her own version of the story.

This being the real position, the reader is genuinely confused and perplexed to answer the question as to who betrayed whom? Natwar Singh himself quotes the interview of Vir Sanghvi with Sonia Gandhi who said that she had been betrayed by Natwar who calls it "a case of the pot calling the kettle black".

But the reactions and reviews that appeared in the media with the appearance of 'One Life is Not Enough', have, while questioning the veracity of the truth, have also given an insight to fathom the real truth. Mr. C. Koshy John from Pune opines that the book should be dismissed right way, because it was Natwar Singh's complacency that forced him out of position (Hindu, August, 4), while S. Rose from Mysore in the same column says that the author has no right to accuse the government to which he stuck for so long.

While admitting that the Ministers have benefited immensely from the guidance of Natwar Singh, Mr. Khurshid comments that his book has created a bad and unpleasant taste. (Hindu, August, 4). It is, however, Prabhu Chawla, in his column Power and Politics, (The Indian Express, August, 3), while accusing the author of having both 'degree and pedigree', squarely blames the author for being involved in the Volcker affairs and thereby the book is an attempt to whitewash the blemishes and follow the path of many writers to write against the establishment and enshrine their virtues.

Similarly Shoba De in her column (ATM, August, 3) expressing her doubt, says, "We will never know whether Natwar Singh is trying to sell his book by creating controversy around it or to settle the old score."

It is however, Vinod Mehta in his article, "Natwar's first rough draft of history needs serious sub-editing', (Times of India, August, 10) appears to make a final comment when, after examining the Volcker files finds therein a complex picture which challenges Natwar's claim of being pure as driven snow."

His final comment is quite significant to note, "Natwar is an honorable man, but he has not been canonized yet."

In short while including the book among the various autobiographies written in the line of T.N. Seshan and P.C. Alexander and many others, Natwar Singh's One Life is Not Enough, cannot absolve or redeem him totally from the controversy that he himself raised in it. It, perhaps, needs many more life to dispel the grey shades of untruth in order to make the truth appear pure and white.

Lastly, Mr. Singh has given a beautiful touch to his book's back cover. In the back cover Mr. Singh has remembered Shakespeare's famous lines, "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past?," may be his sessions' sweet silent past thought summoned him and he wrote this book with a deep pensive feeling of his memories like these lines of Shakespeare, "When I am in a pensive state and recall my memories of past things?", "I regret that I did not achieve many things I tried to get, and with old regrets renewed?"

Natwar Singh felt that, 'One Life is Not Enough' to write all his sweet silent sessions' past, so he wants more life to write his rest sweet silent thought. The way Natwar Singh has finished his writing with Shakespeare's above lines, in this context the name of his book 'One Life is not Enough" is very much appropriate.

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