Book Review: Life Among The Scorpions by Jaya Jaitley

Book Name: Life Among The Scorpions

Author: Jaya Jaitley

Publisher: Rupa

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Blurb: An Indian politician looks back at her journey and recounts how the going got tougher with her every success, perhaps because she was a woman.
Life among the Scorpions recounts the deeply fascinating and often tumultuous events that mark thirty years of Jaya Jaitly’s political journey.

From arranging relief for victims of the 1984 Sikh riots, to joining politics under firebrand leader George Fernandes, to becoming the president of Samata Party—a key ally in the erstwhile NDA Government, Jaitly’s rise in Indian mainstream politics invited both awe and envy. But the going has been far from smooth. Trouble began with George Fernandes sacking Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 1998. Jaitly became the target. She was soon hounded by Tehelka’s stings—first concerning her son-in-law-to-be Ajay Jadeja and then herself in an alleged bribery case. Eventually, Fernandes had to resign as India’s Defence Minister, despite being the best and Jaitly quit as the Samata Party President. Meanwhile, she spiritedly fought booth capturing in Bihar as well as fellow party men’s egos, intervened and ensured the installation of the Samata government in Manipur. All this, even as she continued her parallel fight for the livelihood of craftsmen on the one hand and conceptualized and ensured establishment of the first Dilli Haat (crafts market place) in 1994 on the other.

With all the backstories of major events in Indian politics between 1970–2000, including her experience of dealing with the Commission of Inquiry and courts regarding the Tehelka stings, the story of Jaya Jaitly makes for a riveting read. A powerful narrative on why being a woman in politics was for her akin to being surrounded by scorpions; this hard hitting memoir offers a perspective on the functioning of Indian politics from a woman’s point of view.

Review: Jaya Jaitley finally tells her tale. She is one of the dynamic personalities of Indian politics and there was a time when she was relevant in the politics of India. Having been a close associate of George Fernandes and rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty of Indian politics, she has a wealth of information and understanding of Indian politics.

The title is derived from a Malay woman who spends a total of thirty days in a cage with scorpions and appears unscathed. Like her, Jaya’s life has had her share of ups and downs with her moves being shadowed- the perils of being in public life. Memoirs are always tough for anybody to write as they demand brutal honesty and this is where Jaya comes out a clear winner. She has been very candid in sharing her tale and does not shy away from sharing details about her life which is not something many Indian writers are capable of.

While she has dealt in great detail about her years growing up, and her political activism, parts about her life during these formative years is missing but it’s her decision; if she chooses not to speak about it, so be it.

The book begins with her roots traced back to Kerala where she grew up in a matriarchal society. Her early life was full of discipline and a bit of grandeur since she belonged to an affluent household.  Since her father worked for the Indian government, it took her to distant lands such as Japan, Myanmar, Belgium and England.

“Our family belonged to the famous matrilineal society of Kerala which rejoiced when a girl was born.”

Jaya has a keen eye for observation and is a good writer. Sample this description of the Indian embassy building in Belgium.

 “Our house had a thick thatched roof, tall windows in every room that allowed a view of the tall pines, a huge sloping garden with a tennis court at the bottom end and so many rooms that our small family of three could spread ourselves across five of them for various activities during the day.”

A close woman associate is always looked upon with suspicion and since Jaya Jaitley was a long time associate and comrade of Geroge Fernandes, she also faced the same accusations. But she has explained it all.

“Probably because George Sahib had been brought up in a strict Catholic household with five other brothers, he had no experience of personalized care or collective family activities.”

A major portion of the book is devoted to her time with party activities and makes for an interesting read. She dabbled in Indian politics when Indian politics was still shaping itself and the brutal majority that the BJP now enjoys was not a common phenomenon with coalition politics being the norm and clever political maneuvers a demand of the day. She has chronicled it diligently and the book also provides snippets of newspaper cuttings and important letters, a treasure trove of documents that brings out the Indian political scenario prevalent at that time. The scandals and inquiries are also dealt with in minute detail and she has provided her point of view.

This is the story a brave woman who despite all odds makes the best of whatever challenges life throws at her end and comes out a winner. In her words:

“I have decided that the most important struggle for all women in public life is to firmly reject those signals in society that tell us that it is a crime to be born a woman, and a punishment to be in politics.”

While it’s a given that she would devote a lot of time to her political activism, those looking for details about her personal life will likely be disappointed. She has said whatever she had to say about her life in this fascinating memoir and we as readers must respect it. It’s been said with a lot of candour and this fact alone makes this memoir a worthwhile read.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *