Niret Alva Talks About His Favourite Books


Miditech president Niret Alva has a relationship with sharp, easy companions, which has been wowing him, challenging him, since forever… his favourite Books. Nidhi Jain is truly inspired by him and swears to become a bookaholic herself.

Who introduced you to reading?

My grandfather Joachim Alva had a fabulous collection of books ranging from biographies and autobiographies to works on psychology and dating behaviour and history. He loved giving and accepting books as gifts. After I was born, all new purchases had his name and my name on one of the first pages and the date of purchase. The implication was that he was leaving them to me.

At his bed side was a Bible (the most widely printed and sold book in the world) and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. I've read both. The first many times. The second once. The first is my favourite book. It's a love story of the relationship between God and man, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, with all the attendant ups and downs of faithfulness, betrayal, murder, war, redemption and restoration. In my life it holds supernatural power. I cannot start the day without it.

Joachim Alva was a journalist, freedom fighter, author and politician. He published the news magazine Forum in the heady days of the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi read it and they often wrote to each other. We still have some of those handwritten letters. On Sundays, even before I was a teenager, I would take down in long hand his newspaper articles which he would simply dictate to me. He paid me a princely sum for each exercise and his reminiscences were published on Sundays in a column called Yesterday and Today.

I guess I got my love for books from him. I started reading really early. By the 6th or 7th standard I had read a fairly serious work called Pre-Marital Dating Behaviour. Forget who the author was. From my grandfather I inherited love for non-fiction across a variety of subjects. From the classic "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (William Shirer) which took me a month and twelve days to read in the 12th standard, to the sheer joy of pouring over the printed Encyclopedia Britannica, building on what had started with Enid Blyton, Biggles, Hardy Boys... Alistair Mclean... Ian Fleming... the love for books was all encompassing and still runs deep.

When my grandfather died when I was 14, I lost a fabulous role model, somebody who had inspired me at various levels; intellectual, spiritual, emotional and even to excel at sport... he left me with an abiding love for books.

Kind of book collection I have

It's very eclectic. Some books I have inherited from my grandfather. I love their old feel and slightly musty smell. Some have survived battles with termites, but don't look so good as a result.

The Bhagvad Gita according to Mahatma Gandhi is an example. I have books on Karate (did it for 3 years), a page-weary, battered 30 volume Encyclopedia Britannica , a gift from my parents, Niranjan and Margaret Alva, books bought after reading reviews in the Economist (my favourite magazine), books for the spirit, for the mind, for the sheer joy of fiction.... Ian McEwan, Umberto Eco (what an intellect that man has), Vikram Seth (Golden Gate and Suitable Boy), Ben Okri… books on economics that are lucid and easy to digest... books on the environment....The Forgiveness of Nature and a Moment on the Earth for example... David Attenborough....

I love touching and rearranging our books. My wife Anuja Chauhan loves books too and reads more than me. Unlike me she rereads lots of books. So does my 12-year-old daughter Niharika.

Our book collection reflects the diverse interests of our family... from the latest Harry Potter that my wife and daughter need to buy almost as soon as it is off the press to Agatha Christie to Wodehouse.... we love books... can't get enough of them... keep asking my wife to make more shelves.....

Taste in books and how do you choose the books you read.

My taste in books is often incomprehensible. It's intuitive. It's spontaneous. It's sometimes governed by reviews I read. Sometimes it has to do with work. When we were doing a reality series for BBC World on a call centre in Bangalore, I quickly read... What's this India Business.... And I own it.

When I was writing the script for Operation Hot Pursuit, an undercover documentary on the illegal ivory trade and tracing it from South India to Japan, made by Miditech for NGC... Someone gave me as a gift, a novel by Wilbur Smith that seriously helped stimulate the writing...

Basically I look to buy books that will help me grow by inspiring me, wowing me, challenging me, pushing me, forcing me to state what I stand for.

None of this means that I only read high brow stuff. Some of my favourite writers, I read for the sheer mastery over their material... Dalrymple, Seth, Roberts (Shantaram), Mehta (Maximum City), Agatha Christie... others I read to remember my childhood... Enid Blyton... believe it or not... read two, two years ago... then I love to read food for the soul... enny Hine... Derek Prince... Tozer... Yancey... Tolle


On favourite authors and well written books

There is no hard and fast rule. My favourite authors are those who draw you into their world and hold you close to them as they lead you from page to page. They reveal a point of view and ask you to join it and be a part of it. No this doesn't mean they are all fiction. Take Jeremy Sachs... The End of Poverty... an incredible argument, very passionate for how we can use capital to solve most of the world's development problems. Right or wrong.....he hits you in the solar plexus and you are forced to re-examine what you believe in.

Read Jared Diamond...Guns,Germs and Steel and his more recent Collapse... wow... solid research... well crafted arguments and the climax. Boy, does he make you think! Rushdie and the way he writes is so compelling, you are not drawn, you are driven through the narrative by a rare gift that the author clearly has. Tom Sharpe can make you laugh till you cry with his Wilt series... he is really funny. Sainath (Everybody Loves a Good Drought)... a solid reminder that a large part of India is clearly not the radar of our so-called mass media.

Do you find interesting things in every book

As soon as I finish reading a book, I write down its name and the author's name in a note book. It's a "ritual" going back to the 1980s. If I own the book, I may underline stuff that I found seriously compelling or moving or something that I need to internalise. May copy it out too. Every book as its own secret it own magic. Sometimes a book is dense and not too easy to follow, or maybe my intellect isn't sharp enough.....time to pass.....a good book is like a good relationship...effortless....easy...companionable........

Self help books

Look I know they sell well and that there are people who specialise in that kind of writing. I don't read them anymore. Used to years ago. What scares me about some very famous self-help authors with respect to what they stood for is that they were not able to practice what they preached. One person who preached the philosophy of objectivism died in any asylum. Another author who tried to teach people how to tackle life, committed suicide. A third married 6 times or thereabouts.

The best so called self help books are those that stimulate you to find your own answers. Eckhart Tolle is fabulous... The Power of the Present Moment and his new book... A New Earth... Jim Collins... Good to Great... On why some companies become truly spectacular and others fail to make the grade... simple, insightful and beautiful.

Investments on books

Never consider buying books a waste of money. Think they are well worth the investment, though sometimes it pays to wait for the paperback version. Research shows that children who grow up around books tend to be better equipped for life. Anuja and I have three kids. Niharika (11 and a half), Nayantara (8 and a half) and Daivik (almost 6). The eldest loves reading the most but the second one seems to be picking up. Daivik hasn't really got into it yet.

Reading pace

Varies, depending on the pace. A thriller gets polished off. Romila Thapar's History of India, Vol 1 took ages... was trying to absorb lots of stuff while reading.

Browsing and e-reading

Does not work for me... personally. A book is about having and holding... in bed, at the table, on a plane, in a train, in a park....

Currently reading

Just finished Heaven is so Real by Choo Thomas and now savouring a History of the World in 9 and a half chapters by J. Barnes.

Books that don't hold

Dense, seriously complex material that my brain can't connect with or fathom... stuff that I may grow old trying to get through.

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