Why didn’t the great Indian speechwriter write a memoir? Two reasons.

By any measure, H.Y. Sharada Prasad had an impressive run as a speechwriter, working closely with three of his native India’s post-independence prime ministers. As one would expect, his years as a trusted scribe to Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Morarji Desai gave him a unique insider’s perspective on key events in the history of the world’s largest democracy. 

In 2008, this renowned journalist and translator published a selection of amusing and insightful personal takes on writing, literature, authorship and politics entitled The Book I Won’t Be Writing and Other Essays. Characteristic of his gentle sense of humor, the title was Prasad’s tongue-in-cheek way of firmly declaring that he had no plans to publish a tell-all memoir of his speechwriting days. 

As Prasad explains in the book, he felt he had strong grounds for declining any such project:

…[D]uring the twenty-odd years I spent drafting speeches, messages and letters for prime ministers…[t]o do my job reasonable well, I had to take on someone else’s persona…This exercise plus the need to revert to my own self to carry out other portions of my work was such a strain that my imagination was left with few resources to undertake any writing of my own except personal letters. 

When I eventually retired, the first question that most acquaintances asked me was: “When are you writing your memoirs?” The answer I gave depended on the degree of the intimacy between the person and me. With the not so-so-close friends, I could get away by saying: “Give me time. It is easy for a man to become a ghost, but very difficult for the ghost to become a man again.” That would get a “ha-ha” by way of response. 

To closer friends I would explain that when I joined the prime minister’s secretariat I made a solemn resolve not to convert that experience into money and had kept no diary, made no notes and brought home with me no papers. This had enabled me to do my work with as much objectivity as I was capable of.

Memoirs are written by people who think that their life and work are of great interest to others. But when we have a person who thinks he is not particularly interesting even to himself, what kind of memoirs could he write?

Did Prasad write this out of any scorn or loathing for speechwriters who decide to “cash in” on their connections to the powerful by writing books? This seems highly unlikely; Prasad was no bitter scold. Instead, we can infer (as noted in this touching tribute to Prasad) that his views have much more to do with how this scribe, “by choice, lived strictly in the present. Nostalgia was never his cup of tea.” 

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