Sunetra Choudhury, National Political Editor, picks her favourite reads of 2021

Published on Dec 25, 2021 02:39 AM IST

Former US President Barack Obama’s A Promised Land had brutally honest descriptions of world leaders like Vladimir Putin and closer home, to Rahul Gandhi

Former US President Barack Obama’s political memoir had honest descriptions of world leaders. (HT Teeam)
Former US President Barack Obama’s political memoir had honest descriptions of world leaders. (HT Teeam)

If there’s one thing that can characterise 2021’s reading list for me, it was work. I realized recently that I couldn’t recall the last book I read just for pure pleasure - one that I wasn’t looking for newsy extracts, or perspective to pepper my political writing with. There were too few books that I read without having to make notes and that is kind of sad for anyone, really. The saving grace, of course, was that several of this non-fiction reading necessary for work, turned out to be extremely satisfying.

I brought in the year by reading former US President Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and I was reading Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin’s Both/And, as it was ending. It still amazes me to think that the most powerful man on earth could write an honest account of his experiences just four years out of office. It had brutally honest descriptions of world leaders like Vladimir Putin and closer home, to Rahul Gandhi. The second volume is expected to cover his second term which means that it will have his personal impressions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reading these books makes me painfully aware that it’s a missing genre in India. Yes, we had the odd MO Mathai (Nehru’s aide) and Sanjaya Baru (Manmohan Singh aide) book which revealed insider details about two regimes but the first was soon banned and the second was loved by readers like me but discredited by the Congress Party.

Sunetra Choudhury (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Sunetra Choudhury (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

So, for political observers like me, there’s a complete dearth of first-hand accounts. It’s such a pity that while both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru wrote vibrant memoirs, which are still being studied and widely read, other politicians have stayed away from the tell-all genre. Former President Pranab Mukherjee was different because he did write four volumes covering his entire career, but while it provided some insight, it didn’t reveal all. Former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah’s book on his time at the Prime Minister’s office titled My Years with Rajiv was a great read, however. It was sympathetic to Gandhi for his actions during the Bofors scandal but made up for it with the key ingredient that makes such books work - lovely anecdotes which bring a period of history alive. The other memoir I recommend is Strictly Personal written by Daman Singh, daughter of Manmohan Singh. It is a lovely account and helps in getting to know our former Prime Minister and why Obama was so impressed with him.

Looking ahead to 2022, I’m going to continue reading political non-fiction that is work-related and hoping that one of our politicians decides to dish the dirt. However, when I started this reading regimen of reading fiction post non-fiction, I didn’t realize that sometimes, the non-fiction can start to dominate my reading routine. No more. I look forward to bringing in the New Year with reading just for reading’s sake. Let me order the new Sally Rooney to begin with.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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