Writing memoirs is a tricky business. If you have been an important political figure, for instance, you are bound to have been privy to major decisions made by your country or with other countries.
Should you disclose them and would you be breaking an oath of secrecy? Different nations have different rules. In the US, a certain number of years must pass after a Presidency ends before what took place in Washington’s Oval House can become part of the public domain. By which time, there isn’t much interest in such revelations.
In the UK, many former ministers could not care less about secrecy oaths, which is why some of the best political memoirs come from Britain.
If you are a celebrity, a famous film star perhaps, what scandals, affairs and murky goings-on should you reveal?
Failure to do so means that not many readers will be interested in what you say. For ordinary mortals—and Bhaichand Patel, the author of I am a Stranger here Myself, is one such—an autobiography becomes even trickier.
It can sell only if it is exceptionally well-written, peppered with enough true-life anecdotes to hold the readers’ interest.
Better still, bring a smile to his face. Fortunately, Bhaichand passes all these tough tests. He has a light touch and does not take himself too seriously.
Above all, he has led a fascinatingly full life, accumulating a bevy of friends and admirers along the way. I happen to be one of them. We met when we were both at university, he in London, me at Cambridge. We chased the same beautiful girl in Bombay, as it was then called, and we both lost out.
Lucky for her, as we would have made terrible husbands. Bhaichand had the good fortune, if you can call it that, by being born and brought up in Fiji (his father had emigrated there for better prospects, than in his village in Gujarat).
So, when Fiji got its independence in 1970, Bhaichand was one of the very few Fijians to be well qualified academically, and found himself working in the United Nations under its Fiji quota. How he got into the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) Faculty of Law makes for an amusing anecdote.
“Give me one good reason why I should take you as a student?” asked the Dean at the interview. “Sir, if you do, I will be the first person in Fiji with an LLM degree,” came Bhaichand’s immediate reply.
He got admission, the Dean later admitted over a glass of sherry, mainly on that instinctive response. There is much else in the same vein in the book, though I found details about how he lost his virginity and by how many girls he got “laid” a little tedious.
His three great passions— movies, alcohol, and the throwing of well-crafted parties (woe to anyone who criticises the wine or food he serves—that person is cut off the guestlist for life) figure prominently in the book.
But I was left wondering how such an ordinary-looking person as Bhaichand has, over the years, been able to attract so many fabulous-looking women, even “scored” with some of them.
I can only think of one characteristic: Humour. Most women aren’t attracted by just looks; they like their men to have a sense of humour. One of those who seriously considered marrying Bhaichand, after her affair with Amitabh Bachchan had run its course, was the ravishing Rekha.
She was told about this eligible young Gujarati, working for the UN. When she met him face to face, she quickly turned her back on him, which was a stroke of luck for Bhaichand—the man she eventually decided to marry committed suicide a I was also intrigued by barely a mention of his own marriage, not even the name of his wife. Strange, but then Bhaichand is in many ways a strange, yet loveable, character.