Friday, December 02, 2011

Discovering Dhiren

In circa 1996, when Sree & I were rummaging through second-hand books at Daryaganj's Sunday-pavement-market, he suddenly picked up a shabby, damp, dog-eared book and said, "Buy this! If you don't like it, I'll take it from you whenever you want -- a buy-back guarantee!"

The same book resurfaced while I was unpacking recently:  Dhiren Bhagat's "The Contemporary Conservative". It was dustier and more dog-eared than ever before. I sat on the floor and flipped through a couple of pages, read Vinod Mehta's cover note, the first essay, and then the second and third...and kicked myself for not picking this book earlier.

It is a style of writing that you rarely get to see these days. As the cover note says, nearly all the pieces are "unsparing, learned, meticulously researched and provocative". I liked, in particular, the way he yanks away the pedestal from under some public figures like Arun Shourie (Why Shourie Can't Think Straight), Mani Shankar Aiyer (PM's Press Aide) and Khuswant Singh (Khuswant: RIP, 1982).

Here is his take on Indian politics:
"...Consequently political culture has come to acquire quite a few unwritten rules and methods: you tell a lie when you have to: rarely, if ever, refuse to do someone a favour - it is permissible subsequently not to do the favour but you must pretend that you tried. When involved in negotiation or agitation, if you see a vacant space, occupy it; when it becomes difficult to stay there, retreat....The basic premise is that everyone has a price. The skill of the politician is to find out what that price is.."
Its such a pity he passed away in 1988, when he was just 31. There would have been so much to look forward to in the papers, if he were around!

  • Wikipedia article on Dhiren Bhagat - created today :)
  • Bhagat, Dhiren (1990). The Contemporary Conservative. New Delhi: Viking / Penguin India. ISBN 0-670-83789-X.
  • "Khushwant`s post mortem's". Business Standard, India. 2005-01-31.
    "Sena turns the heat on Aiyar". Times of India. 2004-08-22.
    "The Writer as a Young Man". The Hindu. 2002-01-20.

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