Saturday, April 05, 2008

Auto/Biographies: Are they worth reading?

It pays to have friends and acquaintances who have contrarian views. People with whom when you discuss, you get an opinion that is in stark contrast of what the majority thinks. Yes, there are people who would keep different opinions just for the sake of it. But I am talking about people who have genuine opinions. You may not subscribe to their opinions, but nevertheless it adds to the colour and variety of the conversations.

My good friend is a soul of that breed. It is always exciting conversing with him on any topic under the Sun. Few days back, I asked him to recommend a few autobiographies which I could gift to my growing up sisters. I thought as any responsible brother that exposing them and associating them with such books would shape them up into strong willed individuals. But my dear friend had other opinions. He questioned, "Why do you want to expose impressionable minds to a certain person's ideology. Allow them to shape up themselves, explore themselves, form their own ideologies instead of getting biased to a certain popular personality"

It made me think. And I was glad he raised that up. I got into a self talk about this trying to form my own opinion and concluded a few things based on objective analysis.

  • Ashok may be right in a way. But only to an extent. Autobiographies should only be read after reaching a certain age when one is mature enough to from his own opinions instead of being influenced by the charisma of the writer.
  • Autobiographies may not be the true reflection of one's inner self. Most of the time, it is an attempt on the part of writer's to achieve immortality. No matter how great the writer is, only a few have the magnanimity to unravel the chinks in their own armour.
  • The debate could encompass any written content, newspapers, articles and not just biographies. After all every written piece of text is a manifestation of one's personal ideas. That does not mean we stop reading at all, because it would unfairly bias us!
I would like to end this post by sharing you an anecdote when Gandhi wrote his autobiography. A close friend of Gandhi expressed his concerns on Gandhi's initiative. He said, "What has set you n this adventure? Writing an autobiography is a practice peculiar to the West. I know of nobody in the East having written one, except amongst those who have come under Western influence. And what will you write? Supposing you reject tomorrow the things you hold as principles today, or supposing you revise in the future your plans of today, is it not likely that the men who shape their conduct on the authority of your word, spoken or written, may be misled. Dont' you think it would be better not to write anything like an autobiography, at any rate just yet?"

It had some effect on Gandhi. He later conceded, "It is not my purpose to attempt a real autobiography. I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing but these experiments, it is true that the story will take shape of an autobiography"


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