‘One Life Is Not Enough: An Autobiography’ | Book Review


The quote at the start of the book says it all about the book- “an unexamined life is not worth living”. The autobiography is wonderful depiction of the political history and international affairs. It is a proof to the non-permanent nature of political scenario. Natwar Singh, a person who has had great accomplishments, befriending the giants of the global politics, dining with them, having access to PMO, being indicted of scams are interesting tales listed in his autobiography. It is an easy read, the author commands the reader, the sequence of events are correctly placed and give considerable insights into Natwar Singh’s life.

The power centres in the UPA II should not be something which should compel one to read his book. The book is much more than just the misfortune of Dr. Manmohan Singh. It is way beyond just the justifications sought by Gandhi family from the author. The book is much more than about the above controversies.

Natwar’s early days at school, the college years, the nationalist struggle, and the selection into IFS are engaging parts of this intellectual piece. The author’s life as an IFS officer posted in China has been described in detail. It provides insights into Chinese politics and foreign policy. The further sections mention about Natwar’s instinct at the United Nations. It is more about the day-to-day challenges of the diplomats.

Mr. Singh was the Ambassador to Pakistan and the mention of his interaction with General Zia is highly engaging. Natwar also mentions about his close associations with Forster, R K Narayan, Ahmad Ali, Santha Rama Rao and a young MF Hussain. His excellent job can be seen by going back to days when he used to review books or bring out his compilations. Natwar’s close association with the Nehru-Gandhi family is clearly seen and proved by him addressing Nehru’s sister as “maasi”. Natwar’s rise can be attributed to his social and professional skills. His wondering about how he got into Secretariat shows his modesty. The author was surely the man who had a reach to the PMO and played key role in decision-making.

The personal life of Natwar Singh has just been touched upon and not described well in the book. His wedding to daughter of the King of Patiala has only been given attention. The family life in such a challenging career, sudden death of daughter and son’s career has not been covered in this book.

The parts that caused controversy include his shift in description of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Having called her an epitome of ‘debonair civility’ Natwar describes how she has become a thick-skinned politician. Natwar’s name was dragged into the Volcker committee report and this may be the reason for the shift in loyalty. The author is also critical of Dr Manmohan Singh and made bad remarks about the Indo-US nuclear deal. The end of the book is filled with bitter criticism with references like ‘kettle calling the pot black’. It makes us wonder about the side of politics hidden from general public.

Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5

About the Author: Kunwar Natwar Singh is a Congressman and a highly successful career diplomat who has worked for couple of decades in India and abroad. He was born in a high-class family; he studied at different wonderful cities in the country/abroad and got posted to important locations. He has been at the helm of political and bureaucratic affairs in India and abroad and always has something interesting to talk.

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