Thursday, Mar 30, 2017 | Last Update : 10:12 AM IST
In the winter of 1965, a 19-year-old Italian girl arrived at Cambridge and enrolled at a language school.
In the winter of 1965, a 19-year-old Italian girl arrived at Cambridge and enrolled at a language school. During the same time, an Indian in his early twenties, following his grandfather’s legacy, was studying at the illustrious Trinity College. His name was Rajiv, while the surname happened to be Gandhi. Rajiv’s tryst with Sonia began at a modest Greek eatery, and as their destinies entwined, it also marked a country’s future course. The young girl’s journey from Sonia Maino to Sonia Gandhi has been like no other. The triumphs and tragedies of life that she embraced, with patience and precision, is well known, Rani Singh in Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, an Indian Destiny has simply documented them for posterity. Like many foreign reporters looking for newsworthy plots in the heat and dust of India, London- based author Rani Singh’s journalistic pursuits would often bring her to the subcontinent. The 2009 Indian election coverage proved pivotal, as it was during this particular assignment, she managed to have a closer look at Sonia Gandhi, yet little did Rani know that her trail would eventually pave the way for her to write one of the most talked about book on the iconic Gandhi bahu. Talking about how the idea for the book unfolded, the author says, “In 2009, I provided the political analysis for Sky News television for the Indian general election. Sonia Gandhi had featured in my work. Palgrave Macmillan in New York City were keen to publish a book on her life and they were searching for a suitable writer. My work caught their attention and one fine day I received an email enquiring about my views on writing this challenging book. Of course my answer was an instant yes.” While turning the pages of the An Extraordinary Life, An Indian destiny, it is worth noticing that the book does not begin with Sonia’s birth, rather the first few pages revisits the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The author reasons this approach with the words, “The biggest tragedy of her life marked the beginning of her intensely transformational journey.” Adding, “The story of Sonia Gandhi’s life to date represents the greatest transformational journey of any world leader in the last four decades. So it was always going to be an inspirational and exciting story.” But the task on hand was a challenging affair, Rani had no direct access to her subject matter or her family members (Rahul and Priyanka in particular). That did not deter the writer in her, “Well, whatever would have happened, I would still have had to collect lots of interviews and archive material to form an objective, rounded, and comprehensive picture, and so I carried on with that operation. There are thousands of biographies written in this way about public political figures. All my information was collected from primary or secondary sources. I convinced members of the close circle to co-operate with me on the strength of personal recommendation. They could tell I was a serious person with a strong history. To achieve the desired result, I remained loyal to the key protocol rules of patience and focus, and avoid being aggressive.” “Through the extensive research and conversations with my subject’s friends, contacts, colleagues and political opponents, I have provided the reader with a very strong understanding of Sonia Gandhi’s character, both private and professional,” she informs The biography, while focusing on the leader’s life, also chronicles the ups and downs of Indian politics in the last four decades, making the reader instantly realise that as the young Italian bride stepped into the household of India’s first family, her personal life and the fate of her adopted country were often inseparable. Putting her views across, Rani says, “Sonia Gandhi has lived through a lengthy period of important contemporary Indian history and as the book is a biography of her, the narrative has to reflect as closely as possible events from her perspective, as far as I was able to discover what that was from the different sources. It is vivid, insightful, intimate portrait of Sonia Gandhi, with a sense of what makes her tick, her weaknesses and her strengths.” Rani ends the book by highlighting Sonia’s skills in running a coalition government while waiting for the next generation of Gandhi to carry on the baton.