Does Tihar transform one into a writer? Review of ‘Life Mantras’ by Subrata Roy Sahara

Just imagine sitting inside a cell in Tihar jail and writing two hundred and seventy-four pages filled with ideas and thought processes that you might have followed during the years you were a free man. What would they be like? Will they be on every conceivable topic from sex to relationships and discipline to desires? You may have a lot to write on destiny, misfortune, and planetary influences but will there be enough motivation to go on and explore moods, emotions, humility, ego, and respect? I must admit that I am fascinated by the fact that despite an entire segment calling him a fiscal offender and a cheat in some ways, he has had the guts to write and believe that readers will want to follow and emulate his ideals.

For those who are unaware, let me first get a few facts straight. This 1948 born prefixes his name with ‘Saharasri’ and in thirty-seven years had created an empire worth 27 billion dollars. Did he begin as a rich man? No, he began with ‘a capital of Rs 2000 and three workers’ and ended being a business icon and a power brand. But then this is just one side of his story… the other side has SEBI growling and hundreds of investors howling for their money… as one report points out: ‘Roy, once considered one of the most influential Indians, must mortgage or sell properties to raise Rs 10,000 crore for his bail. In 2012, the apex court had ordered the two Sahara group entities to repay to 29.6 million investors over Rs 24,029 crore, along with 15 per cent. Sahara initially paid around Rs 5,120 crore and claimed that it has directly refunded the rest to the investors. The court ruled that refunds could not have been made directly to investors and the group has to deposit dues to SEBI first.’ Well, multiple charges pushed Subroto Roy behind bars on March 4, 2014 and now SEBI claims the group’s dues have swelled to over Rs 40,000 crore due to mounting interest liabilities. So what are the sort of mantras such a man would have to share with us?

Let me pick out a couple of examples of the sort of writing Subroto has done. He writes that ‘a female should always believe in daily ‘shringar’ and wearing good clothes’ while ‘a male should always concentrate on his work to excel professionally, but also to maintain himself in a glamorous way’. Let me tell my readers here that I have read the book from concept to concept and not from page to page… and this reading regimen made me realise that the author has been contradicting himself more than once. But we shall come to those contradictions later. This definition of a female made me restless and I thought it could be because this man is out of the social evolution that is happening outside the jail. But more reading convinced me that he has rather out-dated views on almost everything and is probably stuck with a mind full of views that modern India and modern management will not give a second glance to.

The author of Life Mantras then picks up sex to talk about and writes that ‘in bed, a wife, apart from her role as a mother, a sister, friend, should be like a prostitute’ and that a male ‘has to take the initiative since the female is so dependent on him’. Come on Subroto Roy, I almost had decided to write to the courts that you must be kept in ail even if you manage to pay your dues. These are outrageous ideas… though you might actually sell a few extra copies because of them.

But let me not dwell on relationships and sex… maybe the ‘Saharasri’ isn’t qualified enough to speak on these issues. At another place in the book the author stands for discipline and writes that ‘a strongly disciplined environment where discipline is observed in letter and spirit and where sometimes some wrong instructions are likely to be issued to the juniors’ a better bet is that a junior  does not ‘hurt his ego’ by questioning the logic of a decision ‘because here you may miss two or three marginal things but if there is an undisciplined environment you will lose it all’. Has Subroto Roy, the business icon, never heard of encouraging brain-storming and a democratic way of managing? A wild guess is that the Sahara employees were all forced into leading a subservient professional life that would stifle a creative interaction and spontaneous growth. This is precisely what has actually happened to the group.

Therefore, my first advice to readers is to not take this book seriously. Do read it because only then shall you be aware of all that people do to fail. Now let me mention one of the silliest contradictions in the book. When the author talks about learning the art of saying no, he writes that ‘when you say ‘no’ it must never be a blunt refusal instead you should explain the reason and logic as to why you are unable to do what he wants’. This is quite to opposite of how Subroto defines discipline… and anyway, why is a blunt ‘no’ bad? I mean, just because I have two cars is not reason enough for a friend or a relative to come and ask for one to be gifted to him… and I can just turn my back to this ridiculous request. Come on, we need to learn to say NO firmly and sometimes with all the punch we can manage. Subroto ji, you will need to spend more time in Tihar and meditate on your concepts for longer… a sequel to your Life Mantras will probably be more valuable.

I am tempted to let my readers know of what Subroto, the power brand, thought of love. He gives the example of two neighbours who apparently appreciated each other’s company and interacted well until one was arrested for some fraud (and I have a distinct feeling that this one is an example from his own experience) and that was when the ‘other family starts avoiding the arrested person’s family and gradually cuts itself off from it totally. So where has the love between the two disappeared?’ The author calls this a ‘fair-weather relationship’ and a ‘love of convenience that lasted till the mutual interests were served’. He goes on then to call ‘love a deceptive word’ and then adds that ‘if you respect someone it is very conspicuous and can be noticed and felt by anybody’ and, therefore, he considers ‘respect as the superior emotion’. Well, I think the author is not able to comprehend what love really means and is assuming the ability of some people to network effectively as love. This is an incorrect interpretation of love… but then the book is full of such inane ramblings and though it tries to pontificate on matters, all it does is confuse the lay reader’s mind.

Subroto was never a philosopher and by writing this book has proved that he doesn’t have any inclination to be one. The book though is a haven of quotes that can be used to raise laughter in meeting and get-togethers. Go ahead and read the book, but please do not think of the musings of Subroto as those of a wise man who is spending time in isolation in some jail.


Book details:

Title: Life Mantras
Author: ‘Saharasri’ Subroto Roy Sahara

Publisher: Rupa Publishers
ISBN: 9788129139856
Price: Rs 200/- (in 2016)



Life Mantras - 'Saharasri' Subroto Roy Sahara. Rupa Publications

Life Mantras – ‘Saharasri’ Subroto Roy Sahara. Rupa Publications

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Arvind Passey
11 April 2016