I HAVE just finished reading H.Y. Sharda Prasad's great and wise book. He has given it a somewhat unusual title, The Book I Won't be Writing.
A collection of already published essays generally produces yawns, not literary excitement. Sharda's book is an exception. Most of the articles have appeared in The Asian Age, one or two in The Hindustan Times and The Times of India. Each one has a thought, a theme and gravitas. Not one is solemn, not one trivial. And there is plenty of wit, subtle and benignly sharp criticism.
In his essay on Shivarama Karanth, he acknowledges the debt he owes to the great Kannada writer. "I regard it as one of the great good turns that life has done to me that I enjoyed his friendship and trust." I too regard it as my great good fortune to have enjoyed Sharda Prasad's friendship and trust for 37 years. His calm self-awareness, his luminous integrity make him a rare breed, indeed.
I first met him in New York in 1965. He had mounted the Nehru exhibition, which was, if I remember rightly, inaugurated by Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. I joined Indira Gandhi's secretariat in April 1966. For the next five years, we were colleagues and saw each other almost every day. I learnt much from him and continue to do so.
These essays are not only brilliant but combine spontaneity with distinction. They are civilised and refined. They are interspersed with a variety of comments, pungent observations (never malicious), vignettes of the high and mighty, their character or the lack of it, analyses of political, historical, economic and literary issues and administrative too. Here is a perfectly integrated individual on good terms with himself, who wears his wisdom and scholarship lightly. He is endowed with a first-rate intellect, a disciplined mind and a generous heart. From time to time, I pull his leg by calling him Jagat Guru. His serenity is so distinctive that Indira Gandhi, eight years his senior, always called him Sharda Prasadji, while she addressed G. Parathasarthi, who was five years older to her, G.P. One little known characteristic of Sharda is that he never calls anyone "Sir" or "Madam".
I do not intend reviewing this book here. I will, instead, reproduce some of the nuggets. Before doing so, I must comment on why Sharda refuses to write his memoirs. What a story to tell. He gives his reasons in his introduction. These are weighty enough. He writes:
Suppose you have no urge to project yourself or play the justifier of God's ways to man or man's way to other men. Suppose you have no relish for being dismissed as a toady, and certainly not as a traitor to those who feel: `If the bell rings, why must I run.' Suppose you feel that what you know might not be the whole truth in the Rashomon-like ambivalence of events. Then you will come to the same conclusion as I have, and not write the book that friends expect. You will refrain from wanting to etch your name like a school boy on a small tree in the forest that is history.
So, let's leave it at that and turn to the nuggets:
* The one quality that a leader must posses above all is coolness. At the moment of crisis he must be composed. Indira Gandhi used to say that the ideal she strove towards was to be calm amidst the most intense activity and to be vibrantly alive when still (page 20).
* Our political life is so full of bounders and blackguards that it is useful to remind ourselves that there are some good men left in it too (page 54).
* Failure in no way diminishes the soundness of Gandhi's teaching any more than crucifixion takes away from the importance of Christ's evangel (page 61).
* Nehru talking to Nehru was one of the finest things about Nehru. He didn't go wrong when he took counsel with himself as he was in the habit of asking himself, `Am I right?' He went wrong when he accepted others at their word; be it a Krishna Menon or a B.M. Kaul on matters of defence (page 82).
* It is difficult to be objective about the Emergency... The twentieth anniversary of that event has been marked by much spirited oratory by non-Congress politicians and a great outlay of space by the press. One could call it a sort of wooden jubilee or counter jubilee. A jubilee was originally a festival of the Jews to mark the deliverance of their race from the Egyptians; a festival, which was celebrated by the blowing of ram's horns (joblis) and the freeing of bondsmen. What was being commemorated here last month was not deliverance but imprisonment (page 112).
* But I do not want a Minister of Human Resource Development. My objection is to HRD - not only to the clumsy, banal, mechanical nomenclature, but the very idea (page 130).
* Way back, when savants and not human resource developers oversaw the Department of Education and Culture, the talk came round the Archaeological Survey of India, Maulana Azad said something about it and one of his joint secretaries replied with alacrity that he would send for the Director-General and tell him about it. The Maulana fixed the functionary with his piercing gaze and remarked: "Did I hear you right?" you will not send for him. You will go to him (page 138).
* Among the many tributes paid to Karanth after his death was one by the Prime Minister who said his work exemplified Indian philosophy. It did anything but that (page 197).
* I once asked him (B.G. Tendulkar) how it was that the Mahatma, who had not taken kindly to the pleas of other would-be biographers, had relented in this case, and, even given active encouragement. "Simple, Bapu knew I was not a Gandhian and that therefore he could trust me," was his reply (page 210).