Books Roundup: Autobiographies

Do you read autobiographies?

तुमको देखा तुमको जाना, आइना अच्छा लगा
आज पहली बार मुझको भी खुदा अच्छा लगा

Tumko dekha, tumko jaana, aaina acha laga…
aaj pehli baar mujhko bhi khuda acha laga

(Meeting you, knowing you, I now appreciate the me some more
Today, for the first time, I, too, appreciate Him some more)

These days my love for autobiographies or self referential literature has grown. I am not exactly sure what exactly I look for in these books, whether I am moved by these stories, whether this fondness is reflective of my current life phase or if my quest for understanding myself has begun a little too late.

I have stared enjoying the tales that are not necessarily heroic, and describe flawed geniuses. They definitely help me understand my flaws better.. And maybe, someday, the cycle will eventually lead to my discovery of the genius within me. That’s optimistic though. The genius part.

My love for sports (watching/ following), on the other hand, has gone down. I still enjoy watching a game or two, cheering for something/ someone, posting status messages, getting into occasional debates. But the interest sustains only for a short while. After the previous world cup, and the wankhede moment, my interest in Cricket also has come down faster than the water slides at Water Kingdom.

Coming back to the books, in the last few months, I read four sports-autobiographical works. Playing It My Way by Sachin Tendulkar, Open by Andre Agassi, Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal and The Test of My Life by Yuvraj Singh. Unfortunately for everyone, Tendulkar’s book projects him as a genius, but an unflawed one. He is a well-cut diamond all through. The book is so polite that at the end of it, all you can eat is Parle-G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best by a margin is Open. Not for its literary quality, but for the openness with which Agassi bares his soul and his life. It tells you of the funny nature of his success and how his failures to come to terms with his personal life and aspirations occupy the top drawer. And also, his growth. I have been in the Pete Sampras camp all my life, and here I was, rooting for Andre well after his retirement. I relived many of those games, the rivalries, their importance or insignificance. And I learnt that the whiz kid of tennis wasn’t really in love with the game. Or, so it seemed. The book is also a very effective reminder of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Rafa and Yuvi’s books have a few similarities. In pure literary terms, they both suck. And both of them pick a grand event as an anchor (the Wimbledon final vs the world cup) and run the book around that grand event. Those anchor events serve as benchmark of excellence that the world has come to know these two by. And yet, the preparation, the agony of successes and failures on that path, the physical beatdowns, the personal and the professional – they are fairly insightful. Yet, just to highlight the differences, Rafa’s book is a few miles ahead of Yuvi’s book in overall quality and impact terms. And a lot more honest also, I guess.

I have just about finished reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, and for a change, I did not feel like I was being preached to. What a brilliant book to come from a CEO (and not the investor). The book managed to put the mistakes of a decade long career in perspective, without, for a moment, reprimanding me. I strongly recommend the book to everyone out there. Even though most people will consider it a business book, I consider it fairly autobiographical. Especially those who aspire to become a good leader, a good CEO, or to have their own startup someday.

किताबों से कभी गुज़रो तो यूँ किरदार मिलते हैं
गए वक़्तों की ड्योढ़ी पे खड़े कुछ यार मिलते हैं

Kitabon se kabhie guzro to yoon kirdaar milte hain.
Gaye waqton ki dyodhi par khade kuch yaar milte hain

Travelling through books, these characters come and meet you so
In the bylanes of a time gone by, a few friends come and meet you so.

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To call it “Playing It My Way” is UNFAIR

Disclaimer: Irrespective of the rest of this post, let me be clear on thing – I am still not open to a debate on Sachin vis-a-vis the other cricketing geniuses. For me, Sachin is “the one”. It is a choice bordering on irrationality, but we are all allowed our vices, right?

His book, though, is another matter.

Playingitmywaybookcover

Playing It My Way is Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, written with a little bit of help from Boria Mazumdar.

Blurb from Flipkart (I pre-ordered the book): In this long awaited autobiography, readers will be able to see glimpses into the life of this living legend; and of the man behind the sport, the husband, the father and an extraordinary human being– quiet, calm and with a rare humility. This is the story of Sachin Tendulkar, the most celebrated cricketer of all time in his own words.

So, how does it fare? In one word, the book can be described as – UNFAIR. To the fans of the man, to all those who follow cricket, to all those who read autobiographies, and to all those who pay to buy books, and maybe even to those who downloaded copies from torrent sites as well.

The book was launched with a lot of hoo-ha and fanfare. I think the fanfare was better than the book itself. It was like the Yashraj films’ trailer thing. The gag that’re in the trailer are all that are there.  The launch had a session where VVS, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Sachin shared the stage. And Harsha moderated. That was king. More interesting stories came out of the closet that day than an entire hardcover book.

To be fair (to the extent possible), when you’ve lived a life that’s scrutinized at every possible turn, there is precious little left to reveal. Yet, the man has been an immensely private person. And he finally writes a book titled – Paying It My Way. What’s the least you would expect-  honesty? An explanation of the many unexplained things? Things you’d expect were brushed under the carpet while saying – we had a tough day in the field…

By all possible benchmarks of a biography – the book is BAD! And that’s an understatement. Its boring, it lacks any new insight into a person who’s the biggest sporting legend/ brand that this country has seen, and rather than being an autobiography OR a biography, it’s a collection of post-match interviews. “The boys played well”, “The ball was doing a bit”, “My goal was to stay on the crease as long as I could”, “The team supported me”, “the management has been supporting the team”, kinds. It adds nothing to your understanding of what made the man the legend.

If I think about his career, as someone who has no desire to get into the stats surrounding his career, I would still want a such titled book to  get into a few spheres–

  • The kind of monstrous desire to play cricket and be successful in it that made him play two matches a day with hours of practice around it
  • His relationship with Marc Mascarenhas, his brother, his family, etc. – the people he thanked so well in the speech that made a nation cry
  • The momentousness of the first match. The match that actually stood out in his lifetime. Was there one? Ever? Anything?
  • The mental and physical preparation that went into some of the big matches, like world cup final or Sharjah.
  • The Chennai test, and some such disappointments
  • His captaincy years
  • A little more about the monkeygate incident.

 

I can go on and on and on. But the book has nothing to offer.

And that’s a huge disservice to the people who’ve been waiting for the book. What was the point of the autobiography anyway? I might as well have clicked a few hyperlinks on Cricinfo. The book is an opportunity wasted.  And that’s why I think the book is unfair. Grossly unfair.

There are times I am glad that there aren’t too many times Sachin has given hour long interviews. His aura would have diminished. For now, let me go and watch some of his innings on youtube.

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