Bookwatch – The Hindu

Bookwatch – The Hindu


TUTU continued to crave more time for meditation and prayer. But this longing conflicted with many other impulses… the attractions of the money to be earned on the speaking circuit; …his enjoyment of the limelight…” Would a comment like this have made it into a biography of South African leader and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu had the biographer been an Indian?

Unlikely. For, Indians tend to eulogise and turn biographies of even living persons into obituaries; whitewashing the warts that make up any human being. But, John Allen — while obviously being in awe of the man he is chronicling — is candid enough to portray him as he is: a mortal with his fair share of weaknesses.

In Rabble-Rouser for Peace, Allen brings to the book inside information gathered during his long association with Tutu; first as his press secretary and then as Communications Director of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Add to this the fact that Allen was for long the religion correspondent for a major South African daily and was, therefore, familiar with the church politics including “intrigue behind his [Tutu’s] rise through the hierarchy of the Church”.

Tracing the life of Tutu from South Africa’s poverty-stricken black township on to the world’s centre stage, the biography also doubles up as an account of the struggle against apartheid as the bishop’s life was co-terminus with the movement. And, unlike the two other great 20th Century catalysts for social change — Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. — Tutu and Nelson Mandela not only got a chance to usher in a new era, but also live long enough to see it evolve; faults et al.