There is a wise saying that goes as follows:

Show me the books a man reads and I will tell you his personality.

In my younger days, my elders would often tell me to read many moral stories. Such stories would help inculcate in me the virtues of patriotism and honesty, they said, and rightly so. The epics Ramayana and Mahabharata helped me get a better understanding of some of the most important values in life.

The Ramayana, however, had a particularly great impact on me. King Dasharatha’s fatherly fondness for his subjects and the brotherly affection between Rama-Lakshmana and Bharatha-Shatrughna taught me how social harmony can make this world a better place to live. Sita following her husband all the way to the woods was the epitome of unconditional love. However, probably the greatest takeaway from Lord Rama’s life in Ayodhya was the adage: यथा राजा तथा प्रजाः, or as is the king, so are the subjects.

Our school textbooks also dealt with lofty subjects such as guru bhakti, or devotion to one’s teacher, responsibility, patriotism, friendship, science, and the greatest inventions made by mankind. The dramas of William Shakespeare, and the poems of Wordsworth and P.B. Shelly also had a massive influence on me. These texts made me more appreciative of the beauty of nature.

During my days as a B.S. student, I grew to like Kannada literature. I would go on to read a number of Kannada-language novels, short stories and poems of some of the best authors of the time.

There are so many interesting anecdotes I could mention here, but one clearly stands out well above the rest. It was an incident mentioned in a book titled ಭಾವ by Dr. Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. It was actually the story of his premature retirement, which came when he still had four years of service left. Dr. Masti was a senior officer who was to be promoted to the post of a minister. However, a junior officer was selected for the post ahead of him. This prompted him to submit a request to the Diwan of Mysore to relieve him of his duties at once. Gauging the problem, the Diwan asked Dr. Masti to visit him. The conversation that followed was one that has lived with me ever since.

“You have submitted a request to be granted all your pending leaves and then be relieved of your duties at the end of it. This is an extreme step. Can you not think it over and change your mind?” asked the Diwan.

“Yes, sir. It is undoubtedly an extreme step, but it will hurt me deeply if I were to take back my letter. I have thought it through and have come to this conclusion.”

“Such things happen in public service. But if you really have made up your mind, I have no choice but to accept your application. I am really sorry about this.”

“I am sorry, too. One thought is holding me back though, sir. In the Ramayana, Lord Rama was asked to go to the forest just when he was supposed to ascend the throne of Ayodhya. The only difference here is what I am losing is not the throne and what I am getting is not the wilderness.”

The incident was a clear testimony to how the Ramayana had helped the author come to terms with his predicament.

Today, it is rather uncommon, nay rare, to come across a leader who has read and, more importantly, emulated these epics in their life. Is it surprising that they have failed to understand the basic principles of politics and public welfare? Had they read more about Yudhishthira, they would have had a better idea on how to deal with pressing social issues. If they had studied Krishna, they would have done a better job at dealing with the leaders of our neighboring countries. If they were more familiar with Bheeshma, they would know how the downtrodden could be uplifted.

All in all, I feel that reading the right books can not just improve the life of the individual, but also the society at large. They can teach our present and future leaders the virtues of raja neeti (politics) and raja dharma (righteousness). And only such leaders can create a prosperous country with happy citizens.


Even at 80, Lakshmana Sastry is an avid reader. He can be reached out at his granddaughter’s email.

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