From his perch as Governor of the western Indian coastal State of Goa, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai takes full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking about, and disseminating his passion for reading and literature.
A prodigious writer, he has authored more than 200 books which traverse an astonishing range of subjects – from history, politics, law to poetry and economy, being possibly the only personage in the Indian political scene with so many literary credits under his name.
Mr. Pillai firmly abides by his maxim that “Art and literature can unite people” and has utilised his love of literature to achieving this object, whether as a respected attorney, as a former two-time State president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or as Governor of first Mizoram and now Goa.
“Art and literature can guarantee unity among people. Private study in form of reading and writing has an educative dimension far greater than merely reading something to prepare a political speech,” says Mr. Pillai, speaking to The Hindu.
A respected figure across the political spectrum in today’s polarised times, Mr. Pillai rues the plummeting standards of literary output and reading among today’s crop of politicos.
“Be it Gandhiji or Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, there used to be a rich tradition of scholar-politicians on the Indian political scene, particularly during the freedom struggle and the immediate decades after 1947. Regrettably, that tradition has seen a decline in recent times,” he says.
Recalling his childhood days in Travancore’s Venmony village, Mr. Pillai says he was a dedicated reader of newspapers even as a boy.
His tryst with literature was cemented when he became a student leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and was elected as secretary in Malayalam language literary committees.
Since the publication of his first book in 1983, there has been no looking back with Mr. Pillai, who has managed to churn out books and anthologies not just on weighty topics but also on humour and folklore as well – all this through the hurly-burly of a hectic law practice and later as a top BJP leader from Kerala and as Governor.
“My writing and public service have been complementary. I dedicate a few hours each morning to read and every evening to write a certain number of pages before going to bed. This has been my regimen for more than 30 years now. Social issues form the raw material of my work, but I hark back to mine our country’s rich literary traditions as well,” he says.
Book on Emergency
His 100th book titled Dark Days of Democracy was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I was a student leader during the 1975 Emergency. For me, as for my contemporaries, this period holds signal lessons even today. Democracy and literature ultimately triumphed this dark period of dictatorship and censorship. By the elections of 1977 and then in 1980, we proved to the Western world that India was a robust democracy, having lost none of its political, cultural and literary vibrancy,” says Mr. Pillai, who recalls how he played an active role in the parallel publishing industry which sprung up in Kerala during the Emergency.
With his infectious enthusiasm for literature, it came as no surprise that Mr. Pillai should come up with a unique book-sponsorship scheme aimed at promoting talented young writers from Goa, eager to get their first literary works published.
The scheme, Mr. Pillai’s brainchild and titled ‘Navi Pahal’, is open for books written not just in Konkani — the local language — but also in Marathi, Sanskrit and Hindi too.
A committee formed by the Raj Bhavan will select the books of the 60 best writers under this scheme. It envisages publishing 25 books in Konkani, 25 in Marathi and 10 books in Hindi and Sanskrit.
Characteristically, a note released by the Goa Raj Bhavan added the caveat that the books “should not contain any content against the nation, national policies, national leaders or hurt the sentiments of any religion, caste or creed.”
Promoting religious harmony
Promoting religious harmony through literature has been a hallmark of Mr. Pillai, owing to which he retains the admiration and respect of his political and ideological foes.
This was evinced in 2012, when Kerala Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala’s publishing house Priyadarshini Publications brought out Mr. Pillai’s book Onchiyam Oru Marana Warrant.
Last month, at a book release in Kollam in Kerala, he had criticised Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse while praising the virtues of Gandhian philosophy.
“I believe in ‘positive secularism’ and the need to promote all religions equally,” says Mr. Pillai.
This compulsive writer shows no signs of slackening. Mr. Pillai’s 200th work pertains to the discovery of the ancient Indian art of ‘Vaman Vriksha Kala’ or the Indian Bonsai.
“Most people think the Bonsai belongs to Japan. Little do they know of its Indian origins. 500 years back, it was from here that this art reached Japan through the agency of the Buddhist monks,” he says.