It is true that intelligence officers do not write memoirs; politicians do—the audience at Delhi’s posh Claridge’s Hotel broke into coordinated laughter after the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, took to the stage in praise of retired spymaster Amarjit Singh Dulat.
“It is a difficult task, writing a memoir, because you must decide what to say and what not to say. Saying is very easy, but deciding what not to say is the most difficult thing,” Nath further declared while addressing an elite—and mostly elderly—crowd at the launch of Dulat’s latest work, A Life in The Shadows: A Memoir, on Tuesday evening.
Life in the shadows
News reports prove that the former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) supremo is no stranger to controversy. His book was allegedly published “without permission or clearance” from a competent authority. He even attracted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ire for his participation in the Bharat Jodo Yatra earlier this month. BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya accused him of playing a “monumental role in the Kashmir fiasco.”
A Life in the Shadows, however, is more of a celebration of Dulat’s commendable journey to the top than a recollection of the numerous controversies that followed him through his decades-long career in Indian intelligence. From tracing his regal ancestry and recalling a Partition-scarred childhood to talking about his love for cricket, women, and scotch, he opens up about his life with honesty, wit and remarkable candour.
“I’m notoriously private, and yet, my life has been an open book. For those who know, they know everything about it,” Dulat told ThePrint before addressing a packed Lutyens’ Delhi crowd discussing ‘online bridge’ and Gymkhana tennis over rounds of coffee, tea, and walnut cake. Some even sat on the floor to support their “beloved Bubbles,” as Dulat is often called by close friends and confidantes, such as former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.
“He has written a whole chapter on me, God, hasn’t he? I just thought, Farooq Abdullah, phansi ki tayyari karo [get ready for the gallows]. But thank goodness,” Abdullah quipped, as the other illustrious guests—his children Omar and Sara, former intelligence officer Yashovardhan Azad, journalist Nidhi Razdan, and ex-Vice-President Hamid Ansari—burst out in laughter.
The informal conversations soon gave way to more serious political discussions, as both Abdullah and Kamal Nath took the opportunity to launch a swift attack on the ruling party. “I hope this government will try to change its course and try to win people rather than votes,” remarked Abdullah, while Nath reminded BJP of the “India outside of Delhi.”
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The spy who loves scotch, Keats, and romance
After the chief guests’ speeches, businessman and columnist Suhel Seth steered the discussion back to Dulat’s memoir, delving deep into his love for literature and history, and his passion for his roots. Interestingly, Dulat begins the epilogue with a stanza from William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
“We were never a religious family, so I engrossed myself more in literature than the scriptures. Despite my master’s in history, literature remained my first love, the Shakespearean tragedies and romantic poets most of all. Keats, renowned for his odes, was my favourite,” reads an excerpt from the book.
There is a reason why he went with the title that he did. While it was his “editor’s choice,” the former spook says it made perfect sense considering the life he led—first in his father’s shadow, then by way of his job. “Ours is a shadowy world. It is not crystal clear. Some of us try to make it clear, but it is not so clear. There is always a little bit of skulduggery here. And that is the nature of the beast,” Dulat told ThePrint.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)