Is there such a thing as an honest memoir, who's to say?

Why does a writer write an autobiography, why does the reader want to read it? And why, are Indian memoirs and autobiographies so damn polite?

A panel discussion at the Tata Literature Live, tried to get to the answers.

Why does no one write about the relationships in their lives, like Bertrand Russel did, pointed out one panelist. "Pataudi was way too private." "And if Einstein had too, maybe we'd know e=mc square meant another thing."

The panel itself, handled sex with forceps, using polite terms like 'man-woman relationship', 'man-man relationship', 'juicy bits', 'sexual relations' and so on. It was a good example of why dishonesty and projection are not easy to shake off. Somewhere in between, the panel discussed the motives of a writer. And honesty. Conviction. Sincerity. And adherence to facts. As if there really is scope for any of that, given the layers of distortion between writing of a book, and its reading.

 Is there such a thing as an honest memoir, whos to say?

Nihal Singh signs his memoir, In in My Veins, for actor Dalip Tahil. Image courtesy: Tata Literature Live!

And honesty, for who's sake.

A booming voice from the audience, a little unsettled by no one stating what to him was obvious, said: "Why do I want to read about someone's childhood if there isn't enough racy stuff there."

But that won't be right, said a panelist. If there are 'juicy bits' in there, "the reader interest gets distorted and limited to a 'certain aspect' of a personality and not the whole."

"To avoid that distortion", for the sake of the reader, he added, "a balanced view must be given to the supernatural and voyeuristic."

The supernatural he was referring to, was related to a previous question about Autobiography of a Yogi, probably world's largest-selling autobiography of the mystical experiences of Yogananda Paramhansa. "The only thing I liked about the book was that he could be at two places at one time," the panelist said. "Pardon me, I am not spiritual."

"I wouldn't call Yogananda Paramhansa dishonest. It could be well-meaning fantasy." He continues, "He could be writing about an experience that was genuine to him, but that does not translate into the experience of the reader, which is a sad commentary on the writer," he said. "Supernatural is no less voyeuristic than sexual relations."

Then again, not everyone's writing for the reader. "Some are writing to purge themselves of their discomforting burden."

Then again, said writer Nihal Singh, who released his autobiography, Ink in My Veins on Thursday, said, " you cannot write an honest autobiography if you have an agenda in mind, to change the world."

Then again, there is the "strange antagonistic relationship between the writer and the publisher". Shoaib Akhtar's Controversially Yours is a case in point. He wrote about a lot of things. "It's really about his hard trek up, players with beards pretending to be mullahs and going around fixing matches. But the publishers in India projected it as a Sachin Tendulkar vs Shoaib Akhtar thing."

Then again, in a net of "mythical personalities", there cannot be talk of honesty or motives, but certainly of politeness.

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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2011 14:08:04 IST