Though an avid reader since childhood, I never got the opportunity to attend a book release event till I was in the early forties. It was in the mid-nineties that I was learning Chinese at the School of Foreign Languages (SFL) in Delhi as a prerequisite to taking up a diplomatic assignment in Beijing.
The SFI director had authored a book. So one fine day, we were off classes and seated in the main auditorium of India International Centre for the book release function. Former President Giani Zail Singh had consented to preside.
Gianiji arrived on time, attired in traditional spotless whites with a rose pinned on the tunic.
Before taking the seat, he scanned the half-empty hall. After the welcome address, the book was released by the chief guest.
This was followed by an exhaustive narration by the author, highlighting the genesis of the book and 'blow-by-blow' account of two decades of toil to deliver it. Some salient excerpts were read out which largely went overhead.
Delivering the keynote address, Gianiji began with the candid admission that as former head of the state, he was generally preoccupied with inaugural tape-cutting and book releases.
In the process, his long-cherished desire to have a well-stocked home library was getting realised as well. The audience by now were wide awake and seem to be thoroughly enjoying listening to the chief guest.
Gianiji recalled that in the earlier times, writing was not a lucrative vocation. It was largely a pursuit of passion. The writers mostly lived in poverty and got recognition posthumously. Today, people make decent living as writers, earning both name and fame.
The former President was all praise for the lesser-known writers as they were bold and forthright.
He took a dig at the practice of eminent personalities churning out their memoirs. With a wry smile, Gianiji said, "Due to the writers' hidden agendas and efforts to project them as what they always wanted to be but couldn't be, such works at best turn out to be half-truths.
Most of these books find a resting place in libraries or circulate as complimentary copies."
While the audience wanted to hear more from the chief guest, Gianiji had to leave early as he had another engagement. Despite a brief appearance, he left a very personal and positive impact.
Post-retirement, while on sabbatical and now as a professor, I frequently get invites for the book release functions, courtesy my reputation of being a compulsive buyer of new titles.
Whenever, I pick up a biography, I am reminded of Gianiji's words of wisdom, wishfully hoping to decipher the untold 'half-truths'.