Life Among the Scorpions are the memoirs of Jaya Jaitly. I have always known her as someone who was the force behind setting up my favorite Dilli Haat. I know she also had a political life that eventually led her to many controversies. Picked up this book when I heard good reviews about it. I was also keen to know the story of a female politician who came into politics on her own, with no known political lineage. There are a countable number of such female politicians in India. I had earlier read Mayawati’s biography and I had lot more respect for her and her journey after reading it. The same is true for Jayalalitha’s biography though her journey came via a highly successful film career.
Apart from the little I read about Jaya Jaitly in newspapers or saw her on television, I had no idea who she was. So, there were a lot of surprises in her story for me. She came across as a beautiful writer with a great command over the language.
Life among the Scorpions or Jaya Jaitly’s memoirs begins with her family history going pack to Kollengede in Kerala where she was born in a royal family that follows a matrilineal system. It always confuses me, how they inherit and move post marriage. However, Jaya Jaitly paints an evocative picture of Kerala that she visited every year with her mother. She is more of a North Indian, as she was born in Shimla and spent all her life in Delhi or Jammu & Kashmir.
In the first few pages, I learned she is a Malayali – in my mind, she was from UP or around, she has performed Kathakali – which is usually a male bastion & that she is related to Swami Chinmayananda – the founder of Chinmaya Mission. It is a great insight into the family life of Kerala around the time India got independence.
Having lived pre-independence with a father who was in foreign services, she lived in Japan, Burma, Belgium and went to school in England. She lost her father at 13 and she had to return to Delhi with her mother. There is a story of their struggles. And then she goes to the USA for her studies. Manages an internship in the UK. Roams around Europe before settling in marriage with her friend Ashok Jaitly.
There are chapters on her days as a young IAS wife and mother in Jammu & Kashmir. Till here the story is beautiful. You learn a lot about the whos who of India in their younger days. Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Mani Shankar Iyer, Biju Patnaik’s daughter and many other influential people were in her circle. She evocatively brings out the bygone era of influential and well-connected Indians. I had goosebumps when I read that she had met Mahatma Gandhi a day before he passed away and she actually heard the gunshots fired at him.
I also liked the story of Dilli Haat. And I wish she had delved deeper into it. I did not know of her involvement in Gurjari, but I was a big user of Gurjari products during the time she was at the helm of it. I felt a connection with her when she spoke about her journeys to Gujarat and shares stories like women not commercializing their embroidery skills for they feared that they may annoy the Gods.
Then George Fernandes and politics walk into her life and all you hear is her rants and rants about everyone and everything. There are gaps in her story. She says what she wants to say but is she being fair to the reader – I am nor sure.
She is in total awe of George Fernandes, who used her in all possible ways, never did anything for her, could not even manage a Rajya Sabha seat for her but she always speaks reverently about him. And She speaks about her marriage in detail but skips the details of her divorce. She speaks about what people speculated about her relationship with Fernandes, but never clarifies it. She uses the words like mistress and slave for herself, though the words come from others or other’s perceptions. And She leaves her relationship with him open to interpretation for the reader. I felt she was royally used by him until the end and then mistreated by his family.
In the first half of her story, I enjoyed reading it and tweeted about how well written it was. However, in the second part, it became a drag to read. It was all about her suffering, Fernandes’ suffering. It was like they were the only honest and upright politicians, everyone else was bad and up against them. However, she does praise Narendra Modi for his professional attitude. She forgets that when they were obliging their people with admissions into schools or colleges, they were being unjust to someone who deserved those seats.
She and her mother had no money to eat but suddenly she had all the sponsorship for her USA education. Her mother then acquires a property in the poshest part of Delhi – no explanation where the money came from. Later, she tells you the cost of getting papers from Indian court at Rs 5/- and how it costs her and she can not afford. But she never explains where she gets funds for travels to South Africa or Singapore for some alumni meet. She has no money to buy a car but can manage 5 Lakhs in a jiffy through her political party account to fly in a forensic expert from Europe.
I am just judging her based on what she tells herself in her own story in Life Among The Scorpions. It is possible that you can not fit every possible episode of your life but the gaps in her story are too loud.
Buy this book Life Among The Scorpions: Memoirs of a Woman in Indian Politics by Jaya Jaitly from Amazon India
Very few women in Indian Politics have made it on their own. Jaya Jaitly did make it on her own, though I am sure her privileged upbringing & influential circle including her IAS officer husband would have helped a lot.
I hope she sits down and writes about her crafts work, both at Gurjari and at Dilli Haat and other places that we may not know off. Her contribution in that space is commendable.
Read it to walk through the life of a woman politician in India.