In the good old days when people used to reach the pinnacle of their professional lives, often they would delve into the spiritual realm, embark on a journey of self discovery, take a world tour or indulge in activities that they had never found enough time for previously.
Of late however, it seems that everyone’s deep-seated desire upon retirement is to become a world-renowned author of fantasies they had always weaved as children and nurtured throughout their adult lives. This inclination towards writing fiction has taken the form of writing autobiographies. Somehow this trend is catching on like wildfire.
Historically, we have witnessed great personalities from various walks of life, recording their life’s achievements and challenges in a very sublime context. We have come across the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon, Churchill’s autobiography that he authored after World War II, John Foster Dulles and Charles de Gaulle. The literary world is awash with scores of those formidable names whose life stories can awaken and ignite many sparks of curiosity and inspiration for any reader, as these are refreshing readings and timeless.
All these popular figures have recounted the historical happenings, their victories and defeats in the unusual circumstances.
Their struggle to make the nations rise, their hopes, dreams and aspirations in a kaleidoscope of events literally transports the reader under the skin of the writer. Of course there are aberrations in history but by and large they have been an accurate account of the chronology of events. These autobiographies reveal to the public what was previously unknown.
Unfortunately, today what is churned out in the name of an autobiography has been nothing but pure abuse of the terminology. As soon as a politician, bureaucrat or a military official retires, they unleash their hidden Daniel Steele, JK Rowling or Roald Dahl. The quality that is published will soon have blockbusters released to the tune of Lord of the Rings hitting the silver screens. More fantasies are spun into literature than factual accounts. These retired citizens resort to writing what they “presume” history “should have been” as opposed to how it was. They capture what they “thought” was correct instead of what was “actually” true. There are dominant shades of falsehood than reality. The memoirs that leave the study rooms of these larger than life figures are mostly a concoction of a self righteous and over active imagination it seems.
Military generals and retired bureaucrats of the country claim ‘innocence’ by some act of a great pledge of secrecy. Obviously, it weighs down on them enough to crush their secrecy vows the moment they liberate themselves from the shackles of the office. In no time, they spill the beans with utter disregard to the security of the country. They engage in ruthless and unbecoming character assassination maligning all those who don’t matter anymore simply because their professional stakes are dissolved. It is more of a cowardly act than an intelligent dissemination of information for public.
A bureaucrat, who is part and parcel of every military coup connives against democracy and supports dictatorship while in service. As soon as he is off the professional hook, dictatorship becomes the lousiest curse according to his memoirs. They lambast dictatorship on all public forums by actively appearing on television talk shows — contributing to newspaper columns and news channels deriding the institution — pretending as if they never had anything to do with the idea itself. Can there be a more profound example of hypocrisy ever. Our country’s de facto prime minister during General Zia ul Haq’s regime became an ardent supporter of democracy and wrote leading articles on its virtues and merits.
I recall I had a great uncle, a man with many facets who wasn’t related to me as an immediate family member but nevertheless we called him uncle. He married umpteen times and was a popular subject of discussion at gatherings. Later he started a newspaper and whenever a famous person passed away, he would write an article narrating incidents of the ultra special relations he enjoyed with that person. Who could negate the juicy anecdotes and moments that he ‘imagined’ sharing with those celebrities!
Some autobiographies therefore, are nothing but sham. Their contents debatable, some even accusatory in character. Instead of leaving the readers with food for thought, or allowing them to expand their thinking horizons in an objective context, they offer nothing but a past mired in filthy mudslinging. It is much better to actually pick up F. Scott Fitzgerald or George Orwell. It will be pure entertainment with some creative value addition too.
This reminds me of what Boswell remarked to critics, on the death of his guide and teacher; Samuel Johnson, ‘Now when the old lion is dead, every ass thinks that it can kick it’. And that is the story of our current biographers.