Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: 'Emergency - A Personal History' by Coomi Kapoor



Coomi Kapoor has been a journalist for over four decades now. Her style of journalism was more inclined towards gossip than ‘learned’ and ‘academic’ writing. Well, let’s face it, gossip mongering is one of the most basic human instincts!

Some dig gossip about film stars and some other about sportspersons (read Cricketers in the Indian context). There is yet another group that digs gossip about politicians. I confess that I belong to the third group.

Coomi is also ‘well-connected’. Her father was an ICS, her sister is married to Subramaniam Swamy, and she is married to fellow journalist Virendra Kapoor. Together with her husband, she keeps a close watch on the corridors and doorways and windows of all the relevant places. Its not for nothing that Outlook magazine described the husband-wife pair as the ‘gossip cartel’ of Delhi!

This book does mention ‘A Personal History’ in the title. So she has declared her intentions well in advance.

But the book doesn’t get stuck in the ‘personal’ details, and there are many that she could have harangued about. Virendra Kapoor was arrested under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) – a draconian act that was totally immune from any judicial review, the Fundamental Rights promised by the Indian Constitution notwithstanding. He was transferred to another jail and even getting to meet him once a month was an ordeal for Coomi and her few month’s old daughter. Virendra’s crime was that he raised his voice against Ambika Soni, the all-powerful associate of the reigning prince Sanjay Gandhi. Ambika had ordered thrashing of a boy who had the temerity to distribute some pro-democracy leaflets in a government program.

The book is a very captivating read that takes the reader through a variety of angles and perspectives. The division of chapters is intuitive enough and she manages to bring out a holistic picture of the intriguing phenomena called Emergency.

She doesn’t stop at 1977, when Emergency was lifted. She follows through with her Epilogue, tracing what happened afterwards, and what became of the cast members of the epic saga. In applicable cases, she provides the details till today.

The foreword is by one of the ‘interested parties’, Arun Jaitley. And yet, he has managed to maintain a reasonable balance and sanity.

Fear mongering about Modi’s intentions seems to be a popular pastime these days. I have nothing for or against it. I just noticed that we managed to suffer through the regime of and topple an equally big (if not bigger) megalomaniac. And compared to today, that happened in the era of total lack of communication. Forget about Facebook and Twitter, or even email; those were the days of postal mail and inter-city phone calls that would need hours and sometimes days to connect. Computers were mostly unheard of and internet was beyond fantasy.

It gives me hope.

Publisher: Penguin-Viking
First Edition: June 2015
Price: Rs 599

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